The Circle

I like social media.  It’s nice to stay connected with my college friends who’ve moved around the country and keep in touch with family I don’t get to see often.  I even get most of my news through social media.  But the one thing that always leaves with a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to social media is the guilt.  The guilt of how much time I spend perusing it.  And why do I spend so much time?  Because it’s getting smarter and it knows how to keep my attention.  At least that’s my working theory.

the circleThe Circle, by Dave Eggers, takes the future of social media to its logical extreme.  Where those controlling the social media, end up controlling us.  It’s an interesting concept and it begs a lot of questions from readers.  I at first thought it was a little absurd, but the more I read, the more I realized it’s a possibility.  Not that I think it will actually happen, but I acknowledge that it could happen.

In the novel, a young woman, Mae,  goes to work for a fictional high-tech firm similar to Google or Facebook.  There she’s integrated into the culture of sharing and being part of a community.  But not too soon after joining, readers begin to see the dark side of what social media could do to social expectations.

When Mae doesn’t ask enough co-workers to join her Circle account (aka Facebook page), she gets in trouble with HR.  She’s accused of not being social and integrating into the community.  Basically, she’s a team player.  Ultimately, Mae caves for the guilt trip that is heaped upon her and begins a landslide of decisions that take her to the heart of social change due to social media.

The issues that Mae faces seem extreme and far-fetched at first.  The longer I read, however, the more I felt that they weren’t too illogical.  Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I do see the roots of Egger’s theory already growing in our current social media saturation.  Facebook wants to show the world what I “like” on profile pages.  Why does everyone need to know I like my college professors status? Facebook also keeps asking me what movies and tv shows I like.  Why?  So strangers can “get to know” me more?  If they were really my friends they’d know what I liked.  And many of my friends on Twitter are noticing that certain tweets aren’t even showing up in our feeds.  We have to go to the profile to see them.  And scarily, I realize that my news comes from Twitter.  And who’s to say that Twitter isn’t censoring that news, or promoting news due to corporate sponsorship?

Not that I blame Facebook and Twitter.  They didn’t force me to make an account, but I don’t have to give them what they ask for either.  I like what Mae’s ex-boyfriend says in the book.  That in many countries, people are censored and live in fear because dictators enslave the people.  Yet in the West, we tend to enslave ourselves to things like social media.  How many times have we wondered whether we’ve offended someone by not adding them as a friend on Facebook?  Even if this someone is a person we haven’t seen, spoken to, or heard from, in years?  Why should we feel guilty?  Or how many times have we worried if we should just like a post or if we should like and comment on a post?

Eggers brings up some good questions and while I don’t think his answers will come to fruition, I do believe we should all be aware that social media has its own agenda and we don’t have to buy in.  If we do, it’s on us.

Jasper Jones

Interestingly, Jasper Jones is the first book by an Australian author that I have read.  The funny part is, I had no idea Craig Silvey was from Australia.  As I cracked the book open, I noticed that some of the words  were odd.  And the dialect of the characters didn’t look phonetically like anything from the U.S.  So finding out he was Australian made a lot of sense.  Once I established the language bit, I appreciated the story and the setting.  The only exception was his description of the cricket games.  I have no idea what a tackler, bowler, wicket, and crease all have to do with cricket.  But I guess that’s what many countries think about American football.

Back to the book, Silvey drafts a story that is universal; it’s set in Australia but relatable to all of us.  Jasper Jones is the outcast of the small, rural town.  It’s not by choice but by situation.  His mother died when he was an infant and his father is a drunk.  Being beaten at home and having to scrounge his food makes him a pariah of the community.  When he finds himself in trouble, he turns to Charles (Charlie to his friends), who is the egghead of the high school.  Charlie has his own drama with a reserved father and an aggressive mother who wishes she were living somewhere else.

Together, the two of them attempt to figure the trouble they encounter and, while making teenage mistakes along the way, they learn that they need each other and the help of others who are involved in the ordeal.  Really it boils down to the idea that no man is an island.  And while Jasper’s and Charlie’s destinies aren’t on the same path, they learn a lot about life and friendship over their intense summer.

Silvey does aJasper Jonesn incredible job developing his characters and brilliantly painting the small town life.  He has a way of drawing me in and showing me rather than telling me what life is like.  I feel more like I’m watching a movie rather than reading.  My one critique is that I wish he would have been more clear on his ending and wrapped up some of the other plot points.  He touches on the racism towards Vietnamese Australians during the Vietnam, but doesn’t really flesh it out.  Granted, it is a sub plot, but I like depth rather than breadth when it comes to plot.  And I feel like there’s more to the story than we are shown, but maybe that’s what will get me to reread the book some day.

All in all is a great, universal story about love, loss, and growing up that extends to all of us from the Land Down Under.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

Destiny is one of those themes that seems to be present in quite a few of young adult novels.  How it’s handled in A.S. King’s Please Ignore Vera Dietz was different from what I’ve read before.  Even though there was quite a bit of swearing and some sexual deviancy, I’d still recommend this book for mature readers that are high school age.

The story is told in flashbacks and from different characters adding their commentary to the main plot points.  The principal character is Vera.  She begins her story at the funeral of her best friend Charlie.  From this point the back story is told through flashbacks.  These flashbacks are intermingled with Vera’s telling of what’s happening in the present.

The main conVeraflict she faces is clearing Charlie’s name.  The details aren’t clear, but Charlie’s death has some dark circumstances surrounding it and Vera hints that she knows who’s responsible and how she can prove he’s innocent.  Since it’s a mystery I’ll leave this plot point for you to figure out.

The other conflicts Vera faces is how to avoid the destiny she feels she inherited from her parents.  They were high schoolers who got pregnant before they graduated.  Her father was a budding alcoholic and her mother had to strip to make ends meet.  Vera feels like she is going make the same mistakes her parents made and avoids dealing them.  Ultimately, by ignoring her parents mistakes she runs a bigger risk of making them.

She does start showing signs that she has inherited her father’s alcoholism.  Luckily, her father intervenes and Vera is responsible enough to head her father’s advice and guidance.  They both work together to face their problems and Vera realizes she has the choice to determine what her future will look like.

Vera’s struggle with destiny was certainly the best part of the novel.  While she makes some bad choices, it’s nothing over the top.  In fact, I can imagine actual teenagers making the same choice.  I think many kids should could learn a lot from Vera’s journey of discovering who she is.  Our parents may give us genetic tendencies, it’s up to us to decide how those tendencies are going to affect our lives.

Code Name Verity

VerityThis book continues my march through the Printz Award winners.  Just as I was considering switching to another list, I read my way to Code Name Verity and it’s reinvigorated my commitment to reading the Printz winners.

The story is set in the WWII era and is told through letters written by a Nazi prisoner who was on a secret mission for the British.  Through flashbacks we learn how she arrived there and who the other characters are that we will meet later in the book.  I can’t provide the names of the characters because there’s a question of who is actually writing the letters and why she’s giving so much information to the Nazis.  By the end of the novel you realize, through other characters, that all is not as it appears.  And I loved it.

I love a book that I can’t guess the ending or the outcome of certain conflicts.  Plus I like almost anything that has to do with WWII and on top of the good writing it’s a book that I highly recommend.  Not only does it keep readers engaged but it enlightens readers to the roles women had in WWII Britain.  I didn’t realize so many women were involved.  Although they weren’t allowed to fly combat missions they were important to flying other pilots and agents around Britain so that they could get to the air fields.

The author, Elizabeth Wein, in her afterwards, describes the research she did in preparation for the book.  I appreciate that she has put so much thought into it because I think it gives the book credibility and it makes it a good recommendation for young adults, male or female.  The other good thing is that it doesn’t sound like a book of facts.  It’s well plotted and definitely has the reader in mind as Wein develops her characters and conflicts.

It’s hard to tell you what the theme is in the book because it’s so intertwined with the plot.  But I can say that it deals with truth and friendships and how sometimes both truths and friendships aren’t what they appear to be on the surface.  I highly recommend this read.  It will definitely be an entertaining read.