“You’re Not Going to Believe This”: So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld


Who was the first person to wear overalls for fashion and not for work? The first person to braid their hair in a fishtail? The first person to decide that chunky black glasses were back in style? These questions are the basis for Scott Westerfeld’s So Yesterday, a novel about cool and where it comes from.

We, as humans, are slaves to social cues and trends. I myself attempt to do my own thing whenever possible but often find that I buy a certain kind of pants because I saw them in a magazine or try a new hairstyle because this one girl in an English class had hers like that. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. It’s crazy to think that the capitalist world runs on marketing, economics, and the subconscious desire to fit in or stand out based on the individual.

Hunter is a Cool Hunter, a person who looks for the Innovators of the world so that he can pass on the next big trend to corporate companies that need only descriptions like swooshes or a mouse to describe them. His life takes an abrupt turn after he runs into Jen, an Innovator with rising sun shoelaces, and uncovers a conspiracy to disrupt the ‘Cool Pyramid.’

The Pyramid goes like this: Innovators at the top, creating trends; Trendsetters below them, who decide what is actually ‘cool’ or not; Early Adopters next, the people who always have the newest this or that; Consumers are next to last, the people who absorb what society tells them is cool or not without really thinking; lastly there are Laggards, the people who are stuck with whatever was cool when they were young. It’s a pyramid that makes sense when you think about it, and it definitely makes you wonder what step you’re actually at.

Hunter and Jen go undercover to find the mystery anti-client and take the reader along on a journey into the machine of marketing and trendsetting. They cover about every area of coolness as they go—technology, import culture, fashion, beauty, transportation, shoes, music. It’s a smooth adventure that goes from one plot point to the next with easy transitions before coming to a moderately anti-climactic ending.

The characterization is nice, but it does work with the Pyramid and create some rather one-dimensional characters labeled as either Innovator or Trendsetter. Beyond their labels and interests, the characters lack some backstory or development, but it’s carried by the plot and is mostly unnoticeable. Hunter, as the main protagonist, is the most developed as a kid who moved from the Midwest to New York City and went from cool to anything but. Jen, as the love interest/sidekick, fits the Manic Panic Pixie Dream Girl trope almost to a T.

Westerfeld does a good job of creating believable settings and societies that are easy to believe in. So Yesterday works well within the American consumerist mindset, but is also rather dated since it was published in 2004. It’s amazing to think how far technology has come, but it’s rather obvious when a camera phone was an innovation. Other than the outdated technology, the plot and characters work well enough and provide an entertaining adventure through all levels of the Pyramid in New York City.

The best example of what the message of the book is or what it’s going for is right before your eyes. When you open to the first page, something seems off. It’s easy to read the words, but they look different, wrong. That’s because the book was published with Futura and Garamond font instead of our usual Times New Roman or Calibri bourgeois nonsense. It plays with you as you read the book, takes some getting used to, but in the end innovates the story and succeeds at making it rather…cool.

If you’re a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s other novels such as Uglies or Afterworlds then So Yesterday does not disappoint. If you like shoes with swishes on the sides, the idea that labels only belong on soup cans, or an adventure in consumerism then check out So Yesterday and rethink everything you know about what’s cool or not.