'The Learners' tells of life after 'The Cheese Monkeys'

Graphic designer Chip Kidd pens a second novel about the life of a young designer

Courtesy of Scribner

The Learners

Author: Chip Kidd

When college ends, the real tests begin. Happy, a recent grad of Penn State, learns to survive the world of advertising in Chip Kidd's new novel The Learners, the sequel to Kidd's bestselling, "The Cheese Monkey: A Novel in Two Semesters."

Kidd is best known as a designer of book jackets. (And not just any designer – Kidd is basically the rock star of the book jacket design world.)

So it's fitting that the cover of "The Learners," which is both arresting and hip, borrows the black, white, and red color scheme of Kidd's famed "Jurassic Park" book jacket.

"The Learners," however, includes no prehistoric creatures. There are a few other colossal elements, such as deceit, death, and the Holocaust. But there is only one word to really describe Happy's life after college: bizarre.

Happy searches for his first job, but not on Craig's List or even through the help-wanted ads. He follows in his professor Winter Sorbeck's footsteps, literally. Happy seeks out Sorbeck's first employer: Spear, Rakoff, & Ware – an advertising firm in New Haven, Conn.

Happy lands the job and soon finds himself working with colleagues with names like "Sketchy" and "Tip" for clients like Krinkle Kutt Potato Chip. But it's his very first design assignment – a simple newspaper advertisement – that leads Happy to an unusual chain of events.

And eventually, Happy must, for his own sanity, investigate the recent death of a college friend. All inquiries into her death end up pointing back to that first ad Happy created, which announces the need for volunteers in a Yale psychology department experiment.

The experiment actually turns out to be more fact than fiction. Kidd manages to recreate the actual Milgram experiments, which took place from 1961 to 1962. This psychology experiment tests a subject's obedience to authority. Eventually this experiment leads Happy to question his own decisions and life.

Although Happy's odd adventures are captivating, there is an essential element missing from this sequel: the unique graphic design assignments that Happy and his classmates at State U. received in "The Cheese Monkeys." Happy's colleagues are constantly working on potato chip ads, but there is not much creative detail beyond the surface level.

So design professors (and others) hoping to score a sheaf of cool new design assignments will have to stick with Kidd's first book.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.