Because I enjoyed Dashner’s Maze Runner series, and am not-so-patiently waiting for the theatrical release of Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline), I thought this seemed like an audiobook I should probably check out. I mean, what’s not to like about a fast-paced technological thriller, right?!? Much like in Ready Player One, a lot of this story took place in a virtual world. Rather than just using goggles and gloves to connect to that virtual world, though, the people in this story use “coffins” that provide their bodies with physical sensations to make it feel as if they are actually experiencing the sensations (both pleasure and pain) of the VirtNet.
Michael is a gamer who spends more of his time in the VirtNet than in actual reality. And, who can blame him? Most of his friends are people he has never met in real life, and his hacking skills mean that he can be better, faster, and stronger with only a few lines of code. Rumors begin to circulate about a “bad” hacker who is using his skills to trap people in the VirtNet against their will, which causes the victims to suffer brain damage and memory loss in real life. Shortly after meeting a girl who claimed to be a victim, Michael was contacted by someone from the government who asked him to use his hacking skills for good by tracking down the perpetrator. Sounds simple enough, right? Yeah… Definitely not! If you want lots of action and adventure set in a high-tech virtual world, you’ll definitely want to read this one.
I am NOT the kind of person who enjoys spoilers, and I *never* flip to the end of the story to sneak a peek… but I somehow really enjoy stories that start out telling you how things are going to end and then go back to the beginning to show you how it all went down. I had forgotten the synopsis of this story when I started reading, and it started out innocently enough. Ben was talking about how he and Rose came to be a couple — with her basically picking him and telling him she was going to be his girlfriend. A little abnormal, but not scandalously so. I am a sucker for love stories, although I was pretty sure the title meant they had broken up, but then it became clear something had happened to Rose. She had died in some tragic way, and Ben’s story was going to tell the reader how it happened. What I wasn’t prepared for, nevertheless, was when Ben ended the first chapter asking, “So why’d I kill her?” Say WHAT?!?
I was recently talking with a colleague about Nancy Pearl’s “four doorways” into the book — characters, language, setting, and story — and I think this book had all four but story was my primary doorway. I was sucked right in because I just had to know more about Ben and what could compel him to kill the girl he claimed to love, let alone claim that he wasn’t sorry, felt absolutely no guilt, and was not looking for absolution. I especially liked how we got to glimpse into Ben’s past to see how he had been shaped by both the injury and tragedy of his childhood to become the young man he was when this story took place. If you are a fan of mysteries that don’t follow a typical crime show formula, you should check this one out.
Growing up in Bed Stuy, NY, meant being surrounded by a lot of “bad” stuff. Ali knew about the criminal activity all around him — from fencing stolen goods to prostitution to dealing and using drugs — but he wan’t into any of that. His thing was boxing, hence his nickname. It wasn’t because he actually liked fighting or anything, though, but because he liked training. In fact, Ali wasn’t really into sparring at all and didn’t do particularly well in the ring. Aside from boxing, he mostly just wanted to hang with his friends, Noodles and Needles. Obviously, those are not their real names, but I’ll let you read the book to get the back story of how they got those nicknames. I will also leave most of the plot out of this review because I don’t want to spoil anything. Just know that there are plenty of teachable moments about family, friendship, loyalty, and choosing to rise above your surroundings.
I think what I liked the most about this story was how the author acknowledged the seedier side of urban life without glorifying crime and violence. Much like Greg Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy, this book laid out all the best reasons kids should aim higher and also showed that it is possible to come back from bad choices instead of simply giving up.
Sadie was more than prepared for a boring summer. Her best friend was going away to work at a summer camp and she was going to work at a farm stand selling fruits, veggies, and $12 chunks of cheese to “citiots” who were on their way from NYC to the Hamptons. Then, something completely random happened. When a drunk and belligerent man pulled in to the farm stand, Sadie became a bit of a hero. Rather than let him drive away with his toddler screaming and crying in the back seat, Sadie physically stopped him from leaving. It wasn’t all that simple, though. As she struggled to take away his keys, she actually had her head smashed off a toolbox and ended up with a major concussion and a terrible scar to show for her efforts. Video of her daring deed went viral and she was nominated for an award at a “homegrown heroes” luncheon that honored local teens.
Though they would have been unlikely to come together on their own, these teens felt an instant connection and decided to start hanging out as a group. Before long, they were working together to take down internet trolls while leaving care packages for the people who had been bullied. I don’t want to give away too much, but I think it’s fair to say that their good deeds soon escalated with the help of a generous benefactor. Though I was glad to see a book featuring brave and generous characters from a wide variety of backgrounds (both ethnic and socio-economic), I have concerns about the dangerous situations into which these teens placed themselves and can only hope that readers will know better than to emulate those particular acts of heroism.
Jackie Stone wasn’t the most popular girl, but her life wasn’t really terrible either… That is, until her father (Jared) was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Then, her life quickly spun out of control. With his family’s future financial security in mind, Jared made the decision to auction his life to the highest bidder on eBay. That is where we meet several of the other narrators — a billionaire who wants to win so that he and Jared can compete in their own “Hunger Games,” a nun who wants to win so that she can help people find God and see that the Catholic Church values all life, a producer who wants to sign Jared’s family up for a reality TV series, and an online gamer who simply feels compelled to try and win so that she can help this man die with dignity. I don’t think it is much of a spoiler to say that eBay took down the auction, since it clearly violates their human remains and body parts policy. And, based on the title, I don’t think it very “spoilery” to even acknowledge that Jared did, in fact, agree to contract with the American Television Network for a reality TV series. What I won’t spoil, nevertheless, is what happened *after* ATN stepped in. Suffice it to say that it was kinda crazy but also not completely outside the realm of possibility.
Between Jackie, Jared, Glio (the name the brain tumor gave itself), and the bidders from eBay, I initially found it a little difficult to follow the myriad of perspectives. I am glad that I kept going, nevertheless, because this story was filled with such great food for thought. Individual rights and privacy of minors in reality TV series and euthanasia were merely the tip of the iceberg! Despite the morbid premise, the story managed to be much more quirky than depressing and I am fairly certain I laughed more often than I was sad. If you enjoyed Reality Boy, you should definitely read this book as well.
Devin never knew life before the Earth got too hot. All he knew of that time was what his grandfather told him. But, despite the fact that he grew up in the “after,” he wasn’t really aware of the hardships that affected most people. Growing up on the farm, he learned how to make due with what the animals and the land provided. As long as he and his grandfather worked hard, they had all they really needed. When his grandfather died, though, it became too much for a single person to manage. So, Devin set off to the city to see if he could find anyone to help him work the farm. For the first time in his life, Devin experienced true thirst and hunger. He was also exposed to the darker side of humans when he encountered people who were willing to hurt others and steal in order to survive as well as those who ignored the suffering of others.
After settling in with some other orphaned children who taught him to scam and scavenge enough to get by, Devin began to hear rumors about a special home for children. If the rumors were to be believed, it was a place in which children would have more than enough food and toys for all. Even better? There was a chance that the children could be adopted by families that could provide for them! Some of the orphans believed in this place, but others thought it was a mere fairy tale. When Devin met an older boy who promised to bring him to this home for children, though, he decided to take a chance. As it turns out, this home really did exist… but something was not quite right. This book is technically “middle grade” fiction, but teen and adult fans of dystopias should definitely check it out.
When Corey moved away from Lost Creek, Alaska, she promised to come back to her best friend Kyra. And Kyra promised to wait for Corey. But, only a few days before Corey was scheduled to go back, she received word that Kyra had died. In the middle of the harsh Alaskan winter, Kyra had supposedly fallen through some ice and drowned. To Corey, who knew that Kyra suffered from Bipolar Disorder (and how very thick the ice could get in the middle of winter), it seemed much more likely that Kyra had chosen to break that ice and taken her own life. The insistence that it was an accident wasn’t even the most bizarre thing, though, as far as Corey was concerned. Even more bizarre was the way the small town’s people reacted to Kyra’s death. For her entire life, the people of Lost Creek had never cared for Kyra or her art, but they were suddenly displaying her artwork all over the place and talking about how well liked and respected she had been. Instead of acknowledging that Kyra had been suffering from depression, her mother insisted that Kyra was truly happy near the end. And, even though Corey had grown up in Lost Creek and only moved away a short time ago, people suddenly treated her coldly, called her an outsider, and warned her not to “pry into other people’s business.” When she carried on asking questions to try and understand what had happened, Kyra’s mother simply said, “Her death was inevitable, and so be it.” Say what?!?
I absolutely loved Nijkamp’s first book, This Is Where It Ends. I saw on Facebook that a friend had read this ARC, so I immediately messaged her and asked if she had an actual physical copy and, if so, whether she would *PLEASE* send it on to me. Luckily, it was and she did! Just like TIWIE, I could not put this book down! I read the first 150 pages in a single shot and only stopped at that point because my husband would have been upset if I chose my book over dinner with him and our daughter. 😉 I read the rest of the book in one more sitting and almost considered re-reading it to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Sadly, this book is not slated to be published until January 2018, so it looks like most of y’all will need to wait to read it. But just trust me and put it on your TBR list now… It will be worth the wait.