I don’t think I’m cut out for Young Adult books. Maybe that's why I didn’t enjoy Monica Leonelle’s new novel Socialpunk as much as all the other reviewers out there. I had high hopes for this dystopian/sci-fi tale, which is one reason why it breaks my heart to post this review. Monica is also a sweetheart, and I’m loathe to rain on her parade. That’s reason number two. But I agreed to give an honest review as part of her Socialpunk blog tour, and by God that’s what I’m going do. If you want to skip all the book talk, there’s a Rafflecopter widget at the bottom of this post where you can enter to win lots of cool swag—stuff like free hardback copies of Socialpunk, a Kindle Fire, and an iPad 3. Don't worry, I won't be offended if your attention wanders. If I were in your shoes, I'd probably be doing the same thing (rather than listening to a pretentious blowhard ramble on about books). Anyway, onto the plot.
So there’s this girl Ima. Her life pretty much sucks. She’s got an abusive father, an ineffective mother, no one at her school likes her, and her one friend Dash—whom she’s madly in love with—doesn’t return the sentiments. Oh yeah, and the world she lives in is a virtual reality. She doesn’t find that out until later, though. She is convinced that she lives in the city of
during the year 2060-something. The
world has undergone a cataclysm known as “the scorched years” in which 95% of
humanity perished and the remaining people have isolated themselves within
giant domes to protect themselves from what has become a very hostile
environment. The society is strictly
controlled to preserve resources, and personal liberty is at a minimum. So far, so good. Chicago
As the book begins Dash and Ima are taking a train on their way to a concert in the city’s downtown area. On the train they notice a bunch of creepy looking teenagers, all of them dressed in black hoodies (ominous, much?), who seem to have come from one of the outer train stations where no one is supposed to go. The creepy hooded guys all make their way to the same concert Dash and Ima are attending where they sell strange capsules to the kids and generally act like creepy drug dealers. Dash ditches Ima for another girl, and sets her up with Nahum, another kid from
who’s new to the dome (and who
immediately develops a thing for Ima).
Soon an explosion rocks the concert hall.
Confusion and chaos ensue, but Ima is rescued by one of the guys in the
black hoodies, who hauls her and Nahum outside, dresses them up in hoodie
disguises, and hustles them onto the train.
Ima and Nahum go with him because… well, I don’t really know. To advance the story, I guess. Anyway, the train goes on to a stop Ima’s
never seen, where she and Nahum and the hoodie guy elude security guards to duck
through some techno-portal into “the real world.” India
Vaughn reveals that Ima and Nahum’s world was in actuality a virtual reality, and he (Vaughn) is a VR tester. Their VR has been slated for demolition and that’s why Vaughn saved them. Normal VRs have replicants or something in them, but this one has live human beings, which I guess is supposed to be illegal but it’s never really explained. The current year is 2198. The earth has healed itself of its ecological wounds, and through cybernetic and bionic technology humanity has advanced to the pinnacle of evolution.
Now here’s where the story went off the rails for me. Ima recovers from having her body hacked on, and she and the rest of the Socialpunks embark upon their first “job” to raise enough Clout (i.e. money) to fund a rescue operation on the dome. This job entails stealing a black data chip from another rival gang and delivering it to… somebody. They botch part of the job, the hash leader gets carted off to prison, Nahum gets shot and captured, and Ima, Vaughn, and the other girl escape with the chip. They make the drop off with the chip, which somehow ends up in the hands of a researcher from the Big Bad Corporation in the story, who briefly contacts Ima before she shuts him out and they go running for the hills. There are some other events, like an artistic battle royal that nets the group millions of clout to spring their leader from jail, a showdown with the rival hash, a run-in with the Big Bad Corporation, and an attempt to infiltrate the dome and rescue Dash.
If it sounds like a mess, that’s because it is. I understood where Leonelle was going with the whole thing, but the logic that gets the reader from A to Z skipped about fourteen letters in the process. That’s the major flaw in Socialpunk—the huge, gaping plot holes that threatened to swallow you whole at every turn. For instance, how the hell did Ima and Nahum manage to get out of the dome undetected? There was the equivalent of a Jedi hand wave (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”) in the form of a gadget that neutralized their tracking devices, but they had to bumrush the portal, dodging security robots along the way, and then walk out with a bunch of other VR testers that should have surely noticed something was up. And the whole black chip thing really confused me. I like to think I’m pretty good at following complex plots, but this one was just over my head.
It also doesn’t help matters that the character rationales and motivations are wackier than the Redbull Flugtag. Friendships, crushes and rivalries develop at the drop of a hat. Every guy worth naming (seriously, every male character worthy of a name in the narrative) either likes Ima, is interested in her for some reason, or is liked by her. Character development is extremely accelerated, lacking the appropriate time and attention for realistic evolution of character traits and inter-character relationships. Speaking of which---for the first half of the book Ima is stricken with something I like to call “Bella Swan Syndrome.” She’s a totally passive character. She doesn’t undertake any actions on her own, is dragged through the events of the plot, and has to be rescued multiple times. But then midway through the book she turns on a dime, takes the reigns, and leads her little hash while the original leader is in the slammer. And everyone else follows her! The only thing more annoying than a Bella Swan is a Bella Swan that inexplicably transforms into a go-getting ass-kicker.
On the flip side, Monica really does have some great ideas for her setting—the world cataclysm, cybertechnology, the art-meets-extreme capitalism society. The ideas themselves are intriguing; that’s why I picked up the book in the first place, but everything else in the story seems half-formed. If you want my honest opinion, what Socialpunk really needs is a skilled editor to rip it apart, rearrange the guts, and stitch it back together again. It has promise, but it lacks focus.
Like I said, maybe I’m just not cut out for YA. Socialpunk simply didn’t do it for me. If I’m way off base, someone please tell me. Monica’s a really nice lady, and I hate to do it, but I gotta go with my gut. I can’t softball it. So therefore I’m going to bite the bullet and just say it: two stars. Sorry, Monica.
But hey, on the bright side there’s always the giveaway. Free stuff makes everyone happy.