Tag Archives: Psychological Thriller

L: Review of Anderson’s “Feed”

M. T. Anderson’s Feed is one of those books that is mentioned as an inspiration by other books and authors all the time, especially in YA. In fact, I was just listening to the audiobook version of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (review to come soon) and the main character includes Feed in a list of favorite books. So… why didn’t I like it?

I’ll tell you why. Reading this book was exhausting. I liken reading Feed to my 6 a.m. workout sessions; this is a means to an end, that end being a better me, but make no mistakes that I am exhausted and frustrated, with an expression that could curdle new milk (LOTR ref). So the key to understanding my 3 star rating has to be hidden in the frustrating bits.

But first:

For Titus and his friends, it started out like any ordinary trip to the moon – a chance to party during spring break and play with some stupid low-grav at the Ricochet Lounge. But that was before the crazy hacker caused all their feeds to malfunction, sending them to the hospital to lie around with nothing inside their heads for days. And it was before Titus met Violet, a beautiful, brainy teenage girl who has decided to fight the feed and its omnipresent ability to categorize human thoughts and desires. Following in the footsteps of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr., M. T. Anderson has created a not-so-brave new world — and a smart, savage satire that has captivated readers with its view of an imagined future that veers unnervingly close to the here and now.

The first point of frustration was the language. The story takes place in the distant future, when other planets have been colonized and most people have grown up with the feed. Language undoubtedly changes over time, as evidenced by the high give-up-rate associated with any Jane Austin novel. Our language in 2016 is not so different that her novels are unintelligible, but just enough that reading passages or novels from that time often prove more frustrating than anticipated, and people give up. Anderson changed the language to reflect the passage of time. If the story takes place in a time when cars can fly, of course the English language would have come up with hip, new jargon. It’s only realistic. However, this was a big stumbling block for me. The dialogue was fluid & realistic enough that Anderson didn’t waste space defining words that the characters would already know, but I didn’t know them, so I had to learn on the fly, which takes time and patience which I have never claimed to possess. In fact, I slowly read and reread the first 30 pages of this book, couldn’t understand any of it, and eventually gave up until I realized it’s a required text for two of my summer classes. Nothing breeds achievement like necessity, so I restarted and endured. After about 50 pages, you get used to it and either skim over it or, by some divine knowledge, understand it.

I thought the novel was going to be far more political than it was. I assumed, “oh ok, feeds in the brain and someone is going to rage against the system and blah blah blah,” but there was very little raging and most of them loved and appreciated “the system.” That, in and of itself, was undoubtedly a statement about society’s reliance on technology, namely our phones, and our willingness to submit to that dependence. The message, although more subtle than I assumed it would be, was still there in all its majesty, urging readers to think about technology and how our society has progressed from primitive independence to total dependence, and how it might continue to evolve.

However, like I said, that message was not as in your face as expected; what was in my face was the other annoyance: Violet. The protagonist, Titus, starts seeing this girl and she seems sweet and whatever until they both endure an unexpected interruption of their feeds. Titus and his feed recover in all their annoying glory, but Violet’s recovery does not return her to her initial, “quirky” personality, but rather that of a Stage-Five Clinger. It starts with casual mentions of “their” future and “when we’re old,” and evolves into paranoia, obsession, unaccountable anger, and psycho-esque behavior. She becomes a total flight risk and I lose both my patience and my tolerance for her. Not to mention, she was one of those people who would ruin an innocent conversation with dramatic news updates and statistics. You know that person, the one you avoid because you might casually say “what beautiful flowers” and s/he’d follow up with something about the bees dying at incredible rates leading to the demise of the Earth’s natural ecosystem. You note a favorite restaurant in Boston and suddenly you’re talking about the Riots and the number of casualties. This is Violet.

All in all, I think the overall messages of the novel slightly outweigh the annoyances. And truthfully, teens will be dealing with acquaintances who possess qualities much like the characters in Feed, like peer pressure, societal pressure, parental pressure, and reading this could help them see the futility in certain actions and the advantages in others. This might be a good book placed alongside 1984, showing the different ways that the government and media can influence its citizens, and how fine the line is between technology making you capable vs. controlled. Good enough, but not something I’ll ever read again. Meh.

 

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L: Emmy Laybourne’s “SWEET” + Toon Teaser

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Chubby bffs go on weight loss cruise; one crushes on sweetner drug, the other crushes on human boy; sweetner makes chubsters into addicted murderous zombies

Readers, I just finished the most FAB book and I cannot wait to sing its praises! I got Emmy Laybuourne’s SWEET in a recent book haul from my generous Grad professor and my expectations could not have been lower. I mean, it sounded positively ridiculous.

sweetSolu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Fiorelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

But will they die for it, too?

Tom Fiorelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

The novel is a satire, making fun of… well, everything. The absurdity of our society’s obsession with weight and weight-loss; the danger of trusting that the things you’re ingesting are safe without doing your own research; the severity of addiction and how easily it happens; the ability to find love in unlikely places. It would be easy to read SWEET and think it’s just a ridiculous depiction of an impossible occurrence; undoubtedly, the premise of this novel is whackadoodle, but then again, is it?! Yes, Laybourne’s depiction is severe and unlikely, but far from unimaginable! The wonder drug, Solu, promises dramatic and almost instantaneous weight loss, something that I’m 100% certain real people would sign up for STAT, not just the fanatics in the novel.

Laybourne’s humor is present throughout the novel and it’s impossible (well, it was for me, at least) to read any of it without fully grasping the message, “people are CRAZY!” The story is told from the swapping perspectives of the main characters, Laurel and Tom. Laurel is a beautifully optimistic depiction of a seventeen-year-old, slightly overweight girl. She’s happy with her body, she loves her curves, she has a healthy relationship with her best friend, and aside from not being rich, she has no overwhelming resentments towards her parents! Can you believe that?! An emotionally un-scarred teen. It’s about gal-darned time!!

The first half of the book is comical, focusing on the budding love story and making fun of, again, everyone. About halfway through, though, things get so stinking REAL! S**t hits the fan in the most improbable way, and Laybourne doesn’t spare her readers any of the gory details. For me, this was an utter delight! Gross me out, girl! Give me the creeps! But for others who are not fans of horror or thriller stories, this may get a bit too heavy for you. I sincerely hope not, because this book deserves to be read by any and all. As vivid as the details were, it only emphasizes Laybourne’s point. How far will people go to be thin? Addiction is not glamorous; in the face of disaster, dignity and social status cease to mean anything. And at what point do you stop considering a person to be a person?

I adored this book. So much fun! It was a quick read, being just 250 pages, and I was utterly enthralled the whole time. This book will live in my classroom library and I’ll be sure to place it in the right hands. This could be a really poignant read for teen girls dealing with self-image and needing some perspective, but I’m in no need of body image reassurances and I got the biggest kick out of this book, so I’d also suggest it to my young readers who just love a good thrill.

I immediately texted Hannah upon finishing it and begged her to read it. We’ll see if she takes the bait. And sidebar, the book ended on a note that could totally mean there will be another book so let us all hope for the best.

Has anyone else read SWEET? I’ve not seen anyone talking about this book and I’d love to know if I’m alone in my adoration. Next up for me is Feed by M. T. Anderson. Join me, won’t you?

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L: Review of Alexandra Sirowy’s “The Creeping”

Dig if you will this picture: you’re home alone, reading before bed. Your chapter ends with a creep-tastic home invasion while the main character is sleeping, something you’re getting ready to do. Now, instead of visions of sugar plums, you know you’ll have visions of knife-wielding maniacs…

Thanks, Psychological Thrillers!!

I live life on a mission trying to find a book that can effectively scare me. Most fail, not because I’m so tough, but either because the Boogey Man in question is a bang in the attic or demented car, or because the writers think scary = disturbing and they go for the gross-out factor. Nice try. Want to know what’s scary? Terrible things that can actually happen. Thus, psychological thrillers win the day!

Enter Alexandra Sirowy’s The Creeping.

Eleven years ago, Stella and Jeanie disappeared. Stella came back. Jeanie never did.

Now all she wants is a summer full of cove days, friends, and her gorgeous crush—until a fresh corpse leads Stella down a path of ancient evil and secrets.

Stella believes remembering what happened to Jeanie will save her. It won’t.

She used to know better than to believe in what slinks through the shadows. Not anymore.

The story technically addresses parallel plot lines: one being the apparent reemergence of a threat from Stella’s childhood and the other being Stella’s experiences with friendship, peer pressure, and budding relationships. One is hella serious; children are dead and Stella needs to remember a horrific childhood experience in order to find the killer. The other is juvenile as can be; Taylor is super hot but cray dumb and Sam is so sweet but totes not popular. The two are seamlessly intertwined, meaning that they are addressed with equivalent levels of urgency. “Yes, I’ve found a dead body but the school gossip just saw me talking to a loser and I don’t know which is worse!!”

I’ve seen reviews admonishing this elevation of high school drama to be on par with a loose murderer, and I have to say… I disagree. I get it. In no way do I consider gossip prevention to be as important as the threat to Stella’s life, but pubescent minds factor things differently. What is important in high school? Popularity. Who you date. Who your friends are. This novel exemplifies (albeit rather dramatically) how priorities are relative and, to this particular high school girl, crushing on a nerd is just as tragic as a rampant serial killer.

In terms of content, it was consistently unsettling, and I mean that as a good thing!! The intention (as evidenced by the title) obviously was to be creepy, and it utilizes suspense and realistic, relatable situations to capitalize on the psychological aspects of being a psychological thriller. The language was a dizzying blend of mature and immature verbiage and content, which mirrored the parallel plot lines. Profanity and sexual references were peppered throughout, whether discussing boy toys or unearthed corpses. For this reason, I’m not sure I’d make it available in my classroom, at least not for just any student. Mature students could easily enjoy this book as much as I did, but as a teacher, I’d need to know my students well enough to know who can brush off such vivid depictions of murder and sexual rendezvous and instead siphon meaning from the discussions about friendship, relationships, and bullying.

This book was fun fun fun! The ending drew on for four chapters after the big climax, so that could’ve been better, and the resolution/explanation felt a bit rushed, but otherwise it was good stuff! And it felt Halloween-ish, because of the scariness, so I’m including a couple other scary ones I’m jazzed to read. Check them out!!

 

 

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