the Little Red Reviewer

I spend my $ on books, not looks.

Posted on: January 28, 2011

Grey, by Jon Armstrong

published in 2007

where I got it:  bought

why I read it:  been hearing good things about it.

Heir to the Rivergroup company, Michael Rivers is in love with the beautiful Nora.  Every date and detail of their romance was organized, choreographed and directed by the PR departments of their companies,  down to Michael’s hairstyle and Nora’s earrings. That they fell in love with each other was never part of the corporate plan.  For the wealthy company families who run the world in this frantic future, everything is PR.   Every moment is planned, directed, blocked and recorded just to be dissected and discussed ad nauseum later. And there is no such thing as bad PR.

This is a future where style is everything.  The wealthy live it up with 24/7 parties, lethally thumping bass,  and cosplay their favorite bands, while bands and hanger-ons  battle for who can be stranger. Success means faster, louder, brighter, more over the top, and more more more of everything than your competition. Privacy is unheard of, and who would want it, when privacy would stop your every move from being broadcast and talked about all over the channels?    

When every moment is garish, loud, brash and bright, the rebels crave quiet and monochromatic. Michael and Nora are two such people.  They dress in muted tones,  and have even gone so far to have the cones in one eye illegally destroyed, making them each color blind in one eye.  Followers of the minimalist fashion and photography magazine Pure H, Michael and Nora send secret messages to each other by quoting partial lines from the magazine.

Grey is frantic, insane, completely over the top, hilarious, refreshing, and at times completely sick.  

This is dystopia like you’ve never read before.  This is body modification and mortification, life imitating art to the nth degree, and performance art like you’ve never imagined. This is fashion punk.

I suspect people will either love this book or hate it.  There are portions where Armstrong went Baz Lurhmann meets AFKAP crazy, and then kept right on going. Michael’s father Hiro is beyond over the top, and I suspect some readers will quickly tire of his screaming fits, his horrible business sense, his (inspiringly) filthy language, and the rest of the ridiculous things he does to hide his insecurities. But it’s all part of the show, folks, it’s all part of the show.

Now that my brain has recovered from Grey’s red-lined pace, I wonder if that was the point? That it was all part of the show? A circus freakshow, where at first, you’re embarrassed to look, and refuse to admit that you’re even interested.  But the moment you take just one look, suddenly you can’t look away, you don’t want to look away, you don’t want to live with the regret that maybe you missed something incredible.

With Grey, Jon Armstrong has taken two tropes that have been done to death – dystopia and Romeo & Juliet, and fashioned them into something completely unique.  These people lead horrible and disgusting lives, you’re almost embarrassed for them. But I couldn’t wait to see what ridiculous thing came out of Hiro’s mouth next, and what awful outfit he was wearing to go with it.

Although my fashion sense is garbage (I spend my $ on books, not looks, yo!), Grey was great fun and a twist that came out of nowhere with a wicked one two punch.  I am still kicking myself for waiting so long to read it.

9 Responses to "I spend my $ on books, not looks."

I knew I should have pulled my copy off the shelf last week and read it with you. Are you planning on reading Yarn soon, or did a little bit of this go a long way, for now?


Grey is very much style over substance—but, oh, what style.


Ahhh! This sounds right up my alley!


Carl – I think I’m going to savor the weird Armstrong flavor for a bit before I pick up Yarn. Do you wanna do a read-a-long sometime in the future?

Literary Omnivore – totally. and the style! It was like a 200 page music video fashion show sensory overload. i dug it.

wolfshowl – If you do pick it up, let me know what you think!


Sure, that would be fun. I’ll put Gray on my reading list for February and then we can talk later about Yarn.


I’m trying to wrap my head around everything you just described, but I have a feeling this is one of those books that just has to be experienced to get it!


[…] why I read it: I loved Armstrong’s Grey. […]


[…] Grey by Jon Armstrong (2007)  frantic, insane, completely over the top, hilarious, refreshing, and at times completely sick.  This is dystopia like you’ve never read before. This is body modification and mortification, life imitating art to the nth degree, and performance art like you’ve never imagined. This is fashion punk. […]


[…] time I was sorely disappointed by a read I originally discovered via Little Red Reviewer’s blog.  I was intrigued by the idea of fashionpunk, which is what this book is supposed to be.  […]


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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