Book Review :
By Deanna Browne
ARC received in return for an honest review.
When virtual reality surpasses people’s wildest dreams, many struggle to remain in the real world. Sixteen-year-old Ari has watched the financial and emotional cost of virtual reality addiction for years as her father continues barely existing in a VR coma. Unfortunately, her only option to help her family escape poverty is if she studies the one subject she hates and fears: virtual reality programming.
Despite her misgivings, Ari soon develops a rare talent that makes her question everything. Now she must hide her ability or risk becoming a priceless commodity that governments and corporations will fight, steal or even kill to possess. As officials tighten the shackles surrounding Ari, she rebels against her imposed future and searches for a way to save those she loves. Yet, running proves impossible, when the government is always one click away. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)
Adult Point of View
Hooked is aimed at the upper YA market for dystopian sci-fi and I recommend it as a fun read with some thought-provoking themes. It’s full of teens concerns with caffeine, drugs and social standing, government conspiracies and a romance. What’s not to love, right?
I like it when books have a racially diverse cast, and when the whole book doesn’t focus on race. Ari – the protagonist – is Hispanic and is downtrodden due to her family circumstances (her dad is in a VR coma and her mom is working two jobs). Her advisor at school is a total jerk to her but his bias is because of her poverty rather than race. There are no racial slurs in the book. Another big plus.
Reed, Marco, Garrett, and Tess are equally interesting characters with loads of flaws and multiple motivations. Reed is the nearly squeaky clean boy from the old neighborhood. He doesn’t like school and wishes he could pursue art. Marco is the angsty older brother, haunted by his addiction to VR and his shady operations. Garrett is in on the illegal business along with Reed and Marco, but he’s completely lost his moral compass. Even so, he takes the moral high-ground with Ari when he doesn’t like her behavior. Tess is the spoiled rich girl but she also is at peace with herself in her slightly chubby body and her mad game skills.
The setting is believable, and not that far off if you’ve ever watched teens today. Even in the same room, they are on their media so the jump to VR bars and VR comas seem logical. The school with armed gunmen, religious fanatics, unreasonable teachers, and bullies also seems reasonable. Dave, the man from the corporation could be seen as a stretch except we have head-hunters come to schools to find talent, so I even found his role believable.
There are characters virtually drinking – meaning that the drinking and drugs (and implied sex) are in the VR. Garrett even points out how if it happens in the VR it doesn’t count because it’s not real, but he also argues everything is as real as you want to believe it is while in the program. Characters also go ‘tab’ which is the equivalent of drugs and drinking but the government has controlled the substances so it’s not as harmful to teens. I think all of these themes provide a great opportunity for a dialogue about drugs and how actions always have consequences. There are other themes like forgiveness and sacrifice that could be explored.
Hooked has a grit, making it feel current and alive for readers. It doesn’t ever push things too far to be inappropriate for upper teens because they deal with the issues presented in this story, well, except for government conspiracies and such.
4 out of 5 stars
If you liked Hooked try Unwind by Neal Shusterman, Legend by Marie Lu Spoiler, and Delirium by Lauren Oliver.