Of coconuts and Sweden… ‘Halving It All’ receives a positive review from Kirkus

“A comic and engaging yet didactic look at the mechanisms underlying economies.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

That’s how the review of Halving It All begins on the Kirkus website. The novella was written by Stephanie Petersen, adopting a temporary pen name until she and her fiance marry later this year. Here at geke, Stephanie has been known as Stephanie Herman, author of Cost Benefit Jr., Stories in Microeconomics. But as this book is intended to be the first in a series, the name change was necessary up front to avoid “author confusion” as the series progressed.

Back in March, when the pandemic lockdowns were just beginning, a homeschooling friend named Stefania Vaughan suggested to Herman/Petersen that she write something illustrating basic economic concepts for older students, kids who were no longer in the elementary-school target audience of Cost Benefit Jr. She started writing Halving It All that very day, knowing she didn’t want it to be a textbook. Instead, she envisioned a work of fiction that would entertain readers and students rather than lecture them.

But isn’t lecturing us something economic books do? Maybe so, and as a result, one of the “characters” of Halving It All is a fictional textbook written by a fictional economic historian, Sir Riordan Vastly, entitled, Manual of Basic Economics for the Stupid and Ill-Informed. Using this device as a recurring foil, Petersen is able to put forward some basic economic theory in a comic way that pokes fun at both the field, as well as some of the theorists and economists who have historically defined it.

Halving It All is young adult science fiction, written in a style and voice that many have likened to that of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The Manual neatly replaces Adams’ Guide in this brief jaunt between moons serving as voluntary economic re-education camps. Coconuts and Sweden appear as recurring themes in the story that are eventually tied together with the work of Swedish economic cameralist Carl Linnaeus. Also an 18th century botanist, Linnaeus attempted to perfect the economic pursuit of mercantilism (the refusal of nations to export gold in payment for foreign goods) by “teaching” coconuts to grow in Scandinavia, thereby avoiding the need to import them from competing nations.

“Petersen’s comic world, rendered in precise prose, brings to mind the work of Douglas Adams,” the review from Kirkus states. “While there is much talk of the underlying theory of economics, Petersen has quite a lot to say about human behavior as well, as here where Violet observes another group of prisoners on Ting: “There was always one person who seemed…not smarter or more industrious, not even more prone to capitalism. But there was usually one person who was unhappier than the other two. More unfulfilled, more driven…it was usually a feeling of frustration, rather than optimism, that pushed people forward.” The book’s message is decidedly pro-capitalist, though its definition of capitalism is a bit more nuanced than the term generally used in American political debates. The story does not have much of an emotional dimension—the cartoonish characters primarily exist to represent various (and often misinformed) ideological positions—but the novel is short enough to mostly satisfy as a satire.”

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