March 28, 2016

Monday Review: NEED by Joelle Charbonneau

I think this is a pretty effective cover.
Synopsis: Need, which I randomly picked up as part of a recent library haul, is a suspenseful thriller with a topical premise—the insidious power of social media and the questionable ease of online interactions—but it also asks timeless questions about ethics, peer pressure, what we want vs. what we truly need, and how far individuals will go to get what they want.

When sixteen-year-old Kaylee finds out about Need, the new social media site for students of Nottawa High School, she is initially skeptical, and understandably so. Sure, it sounds too good to be true that all you'd have to do is invite a few friends or complete a simple task, and then you'd get to make a request. But then people start getting things like new phones, new computers…and Kaylee decides to take a chance and ask for what she really DOES need: a new kidney for her younger brother DJ, from a donor who is a good match.

Then things start to get sinister. People start to get hurt. The tasks assigned by Need aren't so harmless anymore. Pretty soon someone winds up dead. Kaylee starts questioning who's behind it all—and suddenly it's a race against time as people are picked off, one by one.

Observations: One of the strengths of this book is the level of suspense created as the reader watches helplessly while everyone descends into a sort of Lord-of-the-Flies, everyone-out-for-herself game of survival, wondering who is pulling the strings. It's definitely a page turner, as the viewpoint shifts between several characters, each of whom has their own needs and wants—and some of whom will go to any extreme to get it. What do we choose when faced with temptation, with a devil's bargain? Which of the seemingly normal people around us might be a hidden sociopath? What happens when we allow ourselves to be manipulated? These are all fascinating questions explored by this story.

I did have a few minor issues, though. As for who is pulling the strings, I unfortunately guessed pretty early on because, realistically, the options for whodunit were limited. I also found the whydunit problematic—the villain struck me as a bit over-the-top, a bit of the typical madman sort with no conscience and abundant megalomania. Lastly, I did find myself questioning the believability of the overall premise: how realistic is it to think that a harmful and manipulative social network would escape the notice of adults or the outside world for long enough to cause this level of havoc? BUT—I don't think these are questions that are going to bother most readers, and they don't keep the book from being an engaging, interesting, and fast-paced story.

Conclusion: Fans of contemporary thrillers will want to check this one out—it tackles topically relevant issues in a very compulsively readable way, and definitely hits frighteningly close to home in our internet- and social-media-saturated society. It might also prove thought-provoking for readers growing up in a world where social media has always been a fact of life—and get them to ask the right kinds of questions when the next new thing comes along.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library. You can find NEED by Joelle Charbonneau at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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