This young adult foray offers up surprising plots twists that keep you riveted and reading quickly, with the clever unfolding plot paralleling Jim Carey’s The Truman Show It portrays a dystopian social media and influencer landscape 40 years in the future gone amuck, overlayed with teens growing up in the relative simplicity and lack of tech of America in the 1990’s. It is a clever storytelling plot, which leaves you as the reader as naive as Jess, our 17-year-old clueless heroine.
Jess Flynn struggles with average teenage angst over school to romance, never realizing that her life takes place on a carefully curated reality TV set with millions of online fans and producers who conjure up soap opera plot twists to keep tune-in high. A striking moment is when one teen drops a flat device Flat device with a picture of an apple with a bite taken of it, and Jess merely looks on in bafflement. Cell phones and social media platforms have yet to dominate teens’ lives in the 1990s.
There are two distinct levels to read this book: the teen perspective, but also that as a parent. On the teen level, there are shifting friendships, mean girls, budding romance, academic struggles, alcohol-fueled parties, and all the teen social angst of finding one’s place to navigate. On the parental level, Jess’s showbiz parents have no qualms about rolling her up in their ambitious, callous plans much like a highly managed child star. Each in their way remains emotionally remote, with an adult friend stepping in for surrogate parental comfort. Ultimately, Jess lives in a world where her sense of choice and self-direction turns out to have been highly manipulated, and even the closest of relationships deceptive and shallow at their core. The self-serving amorality of all the adults in Jess’s life proves dismaying.
But ultimately the resentment I felt as a reader with being deceived does not yet suffuse Jess. She merely shrugs off profound deception and betrayal that would leave most teens bereaved, furious, confused and fundamentally unmoored in understanding who are they really. The plot thus carries this first novel instead of deeper character insights. The book ends by teasing up a next book in the series. Hopefully, we’ll see more depth to Jess’ emotions And guess what: I can’t wait until it comes out as I want to know what happens next!
Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced reader’s copy.