Editor’s Note: This review is based on an Advanced Reader’s Copy obtained from G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
In Evgeny Morozov’s book “The Dark Side of Internet Freedom: The Net Delusion,” there’s a chapter called “Orwell’s Favorite Lolcat” describing how the Kremlin uses entertainment to placate rebellion. In Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy, the Capitol uses a similar method to suppress the 12 districts of Panem, airing a gladiatorial-style survival game featuring teens throughout the country.
Maya Rock takes these two concepts and merges them in her debut young adult novel “Scripted.” It stars 16-year-old Nettie Starling of long-running teen reality soap opera “Blissful Days,” a tamer ‘reality TV’ version of Linda Schuyler and Kit Hood’s “Degrassi.”
Like Margaret Peterson Haddix did with “Running Out of Time,” Rock creates an isolated microcosm of a larger world. Nettie’s one of the beautiful people who grew up on Bliss Island of the Drowned Lands. Her life revolves around crushing on her best friend’s boyfriend Callen, hanging out with her best friends Lia and Selwyn, trying to solidify her apprenticeship and obsessing about her TV ratings. If her ratings are lower than the predicted estimate, she’d literally get booted off the island and separated from her family and friends.
That’s what happened to her classmate Belle Cannery and her father. One day, they disappeared from the show; the rest of the “Blissful Days” Characters had to rid all their worldly reminders of them, pretending they never existed.
So when Nettie’s new Media1 producer Luz suggests a secret incentive-based Initiative to improve her mediocre ratings, Nettie jumps as the chance; however, Nettie soon learns that her life was never her own and individuality comes at a price.
Like Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy, Scott Westerfeld’s “Uglies” trilogy and other YA dystopias, Rock’s 336-page novel is an easy and absorbing read, re-packaging old familiar themes: the modern “1984” meets “Brave New World” mashup. Ever-present cameras represent the surveillance state within “Blissful Days” as Characters live in a constant fear of being cut. Meanwhile, Media1 produces “Blissful Days” as a distraction from larger off-screen political rebellions on the rest of the Drowned Lands islands.
If this story seems scripted, that’s because it is. Rock recycles the formula of high school, boys and survival prevalent in many YA dystopia novels (and CW television dramas). The “Gossip Girl”-esque atmosphere makes “Scripted” an addicting read.
But even if “Scripted” isn’t revolutionary, it’s the perfect “gateway drug to reading.” And contrary to what Huxley may argue, sometimes we need distractions.
“Scripted” is written by Maya Rock and published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. The novel will be released in February 2015.