A group of three anarchist-leaning progressives operate an organization that documents civil disobedience and digs up dirt on corrupt citizens and government subterfuge. Set in a 2002-era ramshackle house in SE Portland, their operation is steeped in secrecy and constant fear of exposure. When a vagrant woman is inserted into the house, Jen, Fetzler, and Nelson have wildly different reactions to her, and the house degrades into disarray. Heavy on themes of political awareness and involvement, the meaning of friendship and family, the necessity of art, the unbearable funk of loneliness, the risks we are willing to take for our beliefs, and the very essence of Portlandness, Parts Per Million is a smart slice of modern life. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
When John Nelson abandoned his government job to join a scrappy band of activists, he didn’t realize trying to save the world would be so hard. His ideals remain strong, but his optimism is wearing thin. His fellow activists ― computer hacker Jen Owens and Vietnam vet Irving Fetzer ― still think he’s a square. And their radio show can’t compete with the corporate media.
Parts per Million, Julia Stoops’s socially conscious, fast-paced debut novel, is set in Portland, Oregon, in 2002. As the trio dives into anti-war protests and investigates fraud at an elite university, Nelson falls in love with an unlikely house guest, Deirdre, a photographer from Ireland ― and a recovering addict. Fetzer recognizes her condition but keeps it secret, setting off a page-turning chain of events that threatens to destroy the activists’ friendship even as they’re trying to hold the world together, one radio show at a time.
“The page-turning plot would be reason enough to read Parts per Million, but Julia Stoops gives us characters so fully developed the novel feels like theater-in-the-round. The questions they ask themselves are central to our times: How do we live ethical lives in the face of so much institutionalized greed? If the personal is political, how can we turn away from anyone in crisis? Stoops takes us on a joyride through the political turmoil of the early 21st century, bringing anti-war protests and direct action environmentalists vividly to life. Her characters may wear their political hearts on their sleeves, but it’s their internal struggles that capture our attention, and make this story such a rich and timely read.” Stevan Allred, author of A Simplified Map of the Real World
“In her carefully thought-out debut novel, Parts per Million, Julia Stoops gives us a team of young and not-so-young political activists at the beginning of the 21st-century, working overtime to correct what they see as dangerous, if not disastrous, forces at work in the American political status quo. Stoops’s adroit involvement of digital technology in the story gives a lively real-world edge to the presentation. Like a heartbeat against the center of the novel’s environmental and war concerns is a love relationship laden with hopes, dreams, and challenges familiar to the times. Parts per Million is a timely and stimulating fictional look at the difficult and too often thankless task of defending the planet.” Harold Johnson, author of The Fort Showalter Blues
“Parts per Million is a cry for justice and a journey through the heart. Julia Stoops brilliantly conjures the social and political unrest of the early 2000s. The war drums, the resistance, the secretive birth of the surveillance state — all lit by deep emotional honesty. Stoops’s keen eye sweeps us into the lives of three Portland activists — separate souls shakily united by a cause, a house, and a radiant artist/ex-junkie named Deirdre, who simultaneously illuminates and complicates their struggles. Compelling and deeply compassionate, Parts per Million takes us to a time and place we thought we could forget, but can’t, and shouldn’t. Reading it may be the surest way to understand who we were then, and — in the tumult of our times — who we need to be today.” Scott Sparling, author of Wire to Wire
“The little-known history of West Coast, Left Coast eco-activism in the early aughts bursts to life in this timely and important book, full of finely drawn characters and outrageous intrigues. Ecofiction at its finest, Parts per Million is one of the origin stories of the resistance, and a primer for the fight to come.” Susan DeFreitas, author of Hot Season
“While Julia Stoops documents activism of the early 2000s, Parts per Million couldn’t feel more relevant today. The struggle to remain faithful to the ideals — and hard work — of activism, the thrill of the rare, hard-won victory, and the navigating of personal politics, gives this book a thrilling narrative and makes it an inspired wake-up call to all of our inner activists.” Ben Parzybok, author of Sherwood Nation
“Parts per Million effortlessly weaves the personal with the political in this relentless page-turner. Part psychological thriller, part hard-boiled noir, the characters are fresh, real, and alive. With a lightness of touch and an uncanny ear for great dialogue, Julia Stoops tells the story of four activists in a time of war, their moral and emotional conflicts, their betrayals and their small acts of heroism. Parts per Million reads like the bastard offspring of Graham Greene and Naomi Klein.” Robert Newman, author of The Fountain at the Center of the World
About the Author
Julia Stoops was born in Samoa to New Zealand parents, and grew up in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Washington, DC. She has lived in Portland, Oregon, since 1994. She has received Oregon Arts Commission fellowships for visual arts and literature, and was a resident at the Ucross Foundation in 2016.