Author: M.T. Anderson
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2002
Where I got it: I listened to the audio version and got it from the library.
Titus lives in a future where everything is connected with and through the feed. The feed is how people chat, buy, browse, research, and select—it is a computer built into the brain, an implant that not only allows you to have what we would cal the Internet in your head, but also TV shows and commercials, suggestions as to what you might like based on past purchases or inquiries, and anything else along those lines. Titus is just another teenager who has grown up with the feed as something normal, and he lives to bask in the corporate-controlled world. But this all changes when he meets Violet, an unconventional girl who has some weird ideas and perspectives on the feed and the world they live in.
You know you've found a great dystopian/science fiction book when it makes you grateful for the life you have. You also know it's even better if it makes you look at our world and get a little panicky. Titus sounds like many teens in today's world, dependent on the feed for everything he is capable of doing. He also recognizes the dangers of leaving the world's fate on the whims of the corporations that control practically everything, yet sees it more as an inevitability than as something to fight against. That hits really close to home; so many people in our world, sometimes myself included, see what goes on as impossible to change or have an effect on.
Anderson creates such a believable world, and such a terrifying one. The people are completely at the mercy of the corporations—even School™ is a corporation, and not government-run (Titus is appalled at the idea of a government-run school, saying it's "completely, like, Nazi"(109)). They all embrace the instant gratification the feed provides; the instant chatting, the instant purchasing, the instant information—and all this is reminiscent of how we're all plugged in to the Internet at all times. Yet Anderson doesn't come off as being anti-progress or anti-Internet; it's just the way it is, and that's what makes it so scary.
There are also an infinite number of environmental problems that lead the reader to the conclusion that the world will soon end. People start to get lesions, which are of course turned into a fashion statement to deflect the attention from what is causing them, and there are no more trees or natural anythings. Forests are completely gone, as is wildlife. Violet says that the earth is dead; there is nothing that mankind hasn't created or planted, nothing straight from the earth. Everything has been destroyed.
The characters were all really well-formed and rounded, even the stock characters. Titus is not a hero by any means—he thinks more than the average teen in his world, but he wants to belong and be normal and so doesn't talk about his thoughts to his friends as he does to us, the readers. He is often a major jerk to Violet, but shows brief glimpses of a deeper character. I was surprised to see his friends showing sides that I wouldn't have expected from them, especially the completely superficial and unoriginal Quendy when she is talking to Titus about Violet—she shows real compassion and insight, kind of giving Titus a swift kick in the butt. All the teens show some bits of intelligence and occasionally a rare bit of individuality, though it gets harder and harder for them to do so as the feed steers them toward the latest trends and hot topics.
Though this comes before the dystopian trend that has been so prevalent in young adult literature as of late, it is an important contribution to the genre. Science fiction at its core, this is also a statement about our world and where we might be headed. It's protagonist is not extraordinary, though he meets an extraordinary girl. His thoughts are mostly wired into the feed and what it wants him to think, with just a little room for independent thought.
Also, just a warning: the language was pretty strong in this, so it might be better-suited to older readers.
Note on the audio version: This was narrated by David Aaron Baker, and he did a great job. His voice for Titus was perfect, and he was able to make most of the characters' voices unique. Unfortunately I didn't really like his voice for Violet, which was softer—I thought of her as having a more sassy kind of voice. But other than that, his acting was superb. I would also recommend this for its ensemble cast in the feed commercials—with added music, they sounded like ads we see and hear every day. This actually made me panic a little, especially when I saw three commercials in a row that sounded straight from Titus's world. I give the audio 4 out of 5 stars.