You've got mail – shoes, books, rackets, sweaters, CDs

A teenage activist turns to the Web to fight consumerism

Quick, count your possessions. All of them – the ones in the garage, each and every CD, the items in your top drawer. If you're like most, it won't be long until the number is in the hundreds, even thousands, and your next purchase is only a few moments away. For Josh Swenson, the teenage hero of Janet Tashjian's latest novel, this obsession with buying and owning is a sign that American culture is in trouble. Josh is concerned with consumerism, with the fact that Americans seem to be controlled by the advertising that is all around them, and with the way teenagers, in particular, seem to be influenced by brands and trends.

Josh wants to do something about what he sees, and being a modern teenager, he turns to the most convenient medium at hand – the Internet. Part Thoreau-quoting loner and part technologically adept activist, Josh steals incriminating advertising documents from his father's briefcase and posts them on his own culture-jamming website. It's all part of his plan to fight back against consumer excess – and to impress his best friend, Beth, on whom he has a secret crush. The website, which is punctuated with regular "gospels" from Josh's secret alterego, Larry, starts to draw a following among Internet enthusiasts, and then later, in communities across America. In a hilarious turn of events, Beth even starts a fan club for Larry and persuades Josh to join. But when Josh's experiment in self-expression begins to generate a global movement, complete with a rock festival called "Larryfest," things start to unravel.

In a conclusion both bizarre and poignant, Josh must find a way to reconcile his beliefs with his fame, and to come to terms with his passion for consumer issues along with his own, altogether human, longings. Crisply told in Josh's witty, wisecracking, and sometimes self-deprecating voice, "The Gospel According to Larry" is a clever wake-up call to the perils of consumerism for the sensitive and passionate teenage generation.

• Courtney Williamson teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH.

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