Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Socialpunk by Monica Leonelle (2/5)

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 Chicago 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.

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 India 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.”

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.  Chicago is also a city of artists, the penultimate Randian vision of art meets capitalism.  While digesting all of this, Vaughn takes the kids to see the leader of his Hash (think “gang,” though the concept wasn’t explained fully within the novel).  The hash is called the Socialpunks, and in short order Ima and Nahum are accepted into its ranks, Ima earns the enmity of the only other female member of the group (she’s Vaughn’s squeeze, and Vaughn digs Ima), and she and Nahum are whisked away to get their bodies sliced and diced and modified to the hilt.  Oh yeah, and Ima makes the Socialpunks promise to help her go back to the dome and rescue Dash.  There’s that, too.

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.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. "The only thing more annoying than a Bella Swan is a Bella Swan that inexplicably transforms into a go-getting ass-kicker." - That is a great sentence :)

    It sounds like a fascinating premise that has a lot of potential with some more editing.

  2. Your review is spot on with the plot holes and everything. I devoured the book for some reason. It does need some editing and the romance part is rushed and formulaic. And yet I enjoyed it. Maybe my taste is questionable ;)

    1. There were a lot of spots in the book where I got caught up in the flow, too. But then I'd hit yet another spot where Ima inexplicably finds herself clinging fearfully some guy she's barely met, and the flow died.

      But don't worry. Your taste isn't questionable. You like Melville and the Bronte sisters. Taste was never in doubt.

      Oh, and thanks for reposting my blog. You're the best!

  3. I linked to your review: http://www.trevorkidd.com/2012/04/i-read-book-once-review-giveaway.html

  4. Thank god for honest reviews. If I were the writer, I'd appreciate your candor.

    I'm of the same mind about YA. While I won't go so far as to start a shitstorm like Joel Stein did in his recent NYT editorial, I definitely count myself among the dislikers of YA fiction. When I was a YA I couldn't wait to read straight ahead adult literature and now that I do, I can't imagine why I'd go back. Just my opinion, though. whatever gets people reading is A-OK with me.

    1. Thanks, Ryan. From what the other reviews have said, I'm not the only one who saw those flaws. But my opinion is just one of many, and there were a LOT of people who thought Socialpunk was the bomb-diggity. To each their own I guess.

      I'm totally with you on the adult fiction. There are some good YA authors out there, but sometimes I think that some of the YA authors out there write YA simply because that's the highest level at which they're capable of writing. Of course, I'm kind of an asshole, so maybe that's coloring my opinion somewhat.

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