cover image PopCo


Scarlett Thomas, . . Harcourt, $14 (505pp) ISBN 978-0-15-603137-0

The code-breaking and -making heroine of Thomas's latest smart, engaging novel (after Going Out ) takes a critical view of the corporate marketing of cool, an exploit she knows from inside the rapaciously hip boardrooms of the titular British toy company, the third largest in the world. Twenty-nine-year-old Alice Butler has parlayed her expertise in "crosswords, cryptography, and cryptanalysis"—talents she gained from her mathematically inclined grandparents—into a job at PopCo's Ideation and Design department, where she creates sleuthing kits for kids (KidSpy, KidTec and KidCracker). At a companywide countryside retreat (aka "Thought Camp"), the CEO selects Alice to help invent a product that will spark a craze for teenage girls. While Alice looks into her past for insight to this inadequately tapped market—and for clues to her own identity—she also ponders a locket from her grandfather that may contain the code to a centuries-old puzzle. As Alice works on PopCo's blockbuster product and decodes the ancient brainteaser, as well as encrypted messages from an anonymous PopCo colleague, she becomes increasingly disenchanted with her employer's ubiquitous branding, advertising and exploitation of young consumers. Thomas delivers a captivating heroine and a pointed cultural critique that will especially resonate with the No Logo crowd. (Oct.)