As part of our ongoing collaboration with the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, our writers have accepted the challenge of reading and reviewing pre-publication review copies of highly anticipated young adult literature. The reviews are posted here for our readers, but also will be sent to the Book House where they will hopefully be used to inform customers about the books they may want to purchase.We will try to publish one review a week for the spring.
The reviews contain spoilers, so be forewarned!
by Donna Freitas
Published June 2016
425 pages, HarperTeen
The book Unplugged, by Donna Freitas, is set entirely in the future, wherein most of the US’s wealthier population are being “plugged into” a virtual reality network, where they reside, as they would in the real world. This world is dominated by the use of “apps,” temporary changes that one can apply to one’s own body, or be used for a plethora of other things, such as food. This society has always been attempting to find a way to fully upload human minds into the network, instead of depending on a connection to the person’s physical body, freeing them from the dependence of caretakers in the real world. In this world, there are also many people, called “Singles” meaning that they were sent into the virtual world without their families, often because their families paid the price of letting them enter by dedicating their lives to servitude. Theses singles are often adopted into families.
The story begins with the fact that “Service” is a process that allows all those under 18 to experience the real world, and choose whether or not they want to stay. The main character, Skylar Cruz, is a single, and during the beginning of the novel, she and her foster family receive an emergency notice, stating that due to conflict in the real world by the caretakers, exit from the App world was banned. This considerably upsets her, since she had been looking forward to seeing her family again. Later, she is shocked again by the race for the “Cure”, full uploading into the virtual reality, with no need for the body any more, has been won, and uploading would proceed immediately. Later, she has a series of very conspiratorial dealings with a wealthy and rich Lacy, who is a member of the upper classes, and is in an odd sort of relationship with one of the people who were lost in the outside world when the border was closed. She then uses her connections to get Skylar and herself, along with others, into the real world, partly to get her boyfriend back.
Skylar awakes to a very different world than she remembers, and she is hidden away from the authorities to prevent her capture, since she illegally disconnected. The story now focuses on her relation with Rain, Lacy’s boyfriend who lives in the real world now. In the real world, there is a revolution brewing, as one side, the “New Capitalists” want to completely upload all the people in the virtual reality, and sell the now empty bodies to other countries. Eventually, Skylar finds out, after much pain and drama, that her sister, Jude and her own mother are in charge of the “New Capitalists” and they intend to sell her (Skylar’s) body to the highest bidder, to ensure their own futures. However, after encountering her sister at a party, Skylar manages to flee with her group of rebels, although the experience leaves her guilt-stricken, as she murders a guard. Then, the story stops in suspense of the coming conflict.
This book uses the first person point of view to great effect, and Skylar’s internal conflicts are particularly well shown. Specifically, in the beginning of the novel, when the it is announced that exiting the App world was banned, her storm of emotions about not ever being able to see her family again is striking and is well shown throughout the beginning. This is perhaps best shown after she is mysteriously offered a chance to leave the app world, as she is wracked by conflict between staying and being a part of her foster family, and leaving to go and be able to see her real family. She is further conflicted by the fact that this might be the only chance she will ever have to see her family, since otherwise she will be trapped forever in the virtual world. The quote” But at least there would be the chance for some time with my family” (74) shows this well.
Later in the story, the first person perspective is also useful in helping provide an unreliable narrator, since Skylar is unconscious for a time, and thus, we can be held in suspense as to why the New Capitalists were looking for her. This first person view also gives us, the readers, a good way to feel for the main character’s development, as she shifts to being a far more mature person, capable of handling herself and making decisions. The novel also utilizes a huge amount of imagery, which is not surprising, since this book mostly talks about the various events from the first person view, which when used with the imagery as seen here allows for someone to easily fit themselves into the character’s shoes, to be able to see and feel as they do. A perfect example of the use of imagery in the novel is “just wide flat rock that bled into the grass stretching out behind it, a mile of rugged, nearly barren earth” (241), which gives us a perspective on the city, showing that outside of the city showing the lack of a need for urban development of land. Overall, the book is quite good at combining all of these types of writing into an engaging and interesting storyline.