Feed

I checked Feed by M.T. Anderson out of the library the other day then forgot all about it. I had a bunch of other books to read and it slipped my mind until I got a notice saying it was overdue. I found it in my closet (Why was it there? No idea. Must have been YA reading Gremlins.) and was just going to take it back, after all it was late and the cover wasn't very interesting and the blurbs were silly, but I gave it a one chapter chance and was captivated. My initial impression was that it was Catcher in the Rye, on the moon, with a brain implant.

Titus (whose name I didn't catch until about a third of the way through the book) is very much a product of his times, a spoiled, neglected teen who has been molded into the ultimate consumer. Like everyone else in his peer group, he has a feed implanted in his head, which allows him to chat, listen to music, shop, watch movies and TV shows, etc. He's inundated with ads; in fact there is often little difference between ads and entertainment. He also has virtual personal assistants that exist solely to find things he might want to buy. He can't go anywhere or do anything without an avalanche of inducements.

When we first meet Titus he and his friends are heading to the moon, planning to have a fabulous time just like they see in the movies and on television. But of course when he gets there it can't possibly live up to his hyped up expectations. Everything is a little bit shoddier than, or not as popular as he's been led to believe. He still tries to have fun and perks up when they go to a nightclub and he sees an interesting girl who stands out from the rest. But not long after spotting her everything is disrupted when a hacker attacks. The hacker doesn't go after the nightclub, he goes after the kids, disrupting their feeds and turning them into robotic puppets that must obey and repeat his every demand.

While the teens are in the hospital recovering from the attack, Titus gets to know the girl, who is called Violet. She's very different from anyone else he has ever met; homeschooled and from a different socioeconomic background. Violet's father is an eccentric who teaches dead languages and has an outdated feed. He speaks in odd patterns that Titus can barely decipher. When Titus and Violet start seeing each other she avoids introducing him to her father; instead exploring new horizons with Titus.

While Titus enjoys spending time with her, and is fascinated by the novelty of her views of the world, she also makes him uncomfortable. She looks beyond the surface of the glossy, glitzy world he inhabits and she doesn't view his friends the same way he does, which ends up driving a wedge between them. It's hard to hang out and have fun when you're under a microscope. He also worries about whether he is stupid or not and frequently feels inferior when Violet talks to him about the wrongs and sufferings of the world, which he largely doesn't notice. Titus doesn't know that Violet's feed has been severely damaged by the hacker or that since her feed is such an integral part of her nervous system she is also damaged and is completely unprepared to cope with what that means.

Feed is billed as a satire, a title that confuses me. Perhaps I'm just being daft but when I think of satire I think of A Modest Proposal, and don't feel that Feed is in the same ballpark. Instead of being a completely ridiculous, sarcastic treatise, Feed is more of an extrapolation of today's society, with a strong emphasis on increasing commercialization. Our current society has suggested that we sell naming rights of elementary schools to big corporations so allowing them to completely take over the education of our children doesn't sound that farfetched to me. From there it's only a small step to tailoring the curriculum to encourage increased consumerism and waste.

Feed is a book that takes a little getting used to as there are loads of slang terms that need deciphering, but once you get the hang of the language you're set. M.T. Anderson did a lot of research for this book, listening to people talk on their cells in public places, reading teen magazines, etc. I was surprised by one comment he made where he appears to be dismayed by a student who says that England was dumb, or stupid, I don't recall the exact word. Mr. Anderson's response was that it was a whole country, implying it couldn't possibly be dumb or stupid. He uses this remark in Feed when Titus says he's been to Mars and it was dumb, causing Violet to point out it's an entire planet. Mr. Anderson has a fantastic ear for YA dialogue and his characters are utterly believable but I think he makes an error here. When a teen says a place is dumb, they mean they feel uncomfortable or out of place there and they'd rather be somewhere else, most likely with their peers. They aren't actually saying anything at all about the place; instead they're complaining about their lack of relationship with said place. It's interesting to me that he nails so much about teens but forgets this one thing. But I digress.

You can read an excerpt from this engrossing novel here: http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?mode=book&isbn=0763622591&browse=Autho.... There is a link on the left-hand side of the page which will give you a popup window.

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One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Hungry Boi, who says "Hardees has new onion rings that are really good. They're batter fried and remind me of the ones I get at the steakhouse. The new orange shakes suck. Don't waste your money." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.