Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

The UnidentifiedThe Unidentified by Rae Mariz (HarperCollins - Balzer + Bray) is part So Yesterday, part Pretties, part Feed. If that sounds like the best thing you've heard about all year, read on.

Katey goes to school in a mall that's been repurposed by the corporate sponsors who now provide education for the masses. Students themselves are branded, recruited for different commercial programs, used as corporate guinea pigs for whatever is being prepared for the next trend--à la minute. School is one big competitive Game, and the administration is viewing your profile. Not only that, but just like in non-dystopian high school, there's a sense that everyone's personality is at least part performing for the cameras.

And then the mysterious Unidentified offer a choice to Katey/Kid:

"Your identity is reduced with every choice you fake, every secret they take.... They make an offer and you buy it. Things you are told are freedoms in fact limit your choices. You hold a razor blade to your soul. You choose your suicide.
"We refuse to choose our suicide."

Why can't everyone see what Katey sees: that they're reduced to tweets and trends, to two-minute attention spans? If she can find out who's behind the rebellion, does she want to be a part of it?

How cool would it be to go to school where you could spend your day following your own passions, making robots, competing in bike races, mixing your own music, going to lectures on the physics of Hollywood special effects, with the tests being customized in-Game queries that encourage you to (literally) do the math for points? Creepy market research--and loss of content ownership and control--aside, the self-directed,  high-tech, Montessori-gone-wrong-due-to-sponsorship-style learning aspect of The Unidentified is very alluring.

But, most of all, I appreciated a rebellion focused on our consumption, our choices to conform or not--things that are largely out of control for minors, that are much desired, and that are part and parcel of coming of age. In addition, I thought it very appropriate that Internet privacy was a theme; just as it's getting to be in real life with sketchy, difficult to opt out of "services" like Spokeo and with places like Facebook unconcerned with protecting your private information, the characters in The Unidentified have to contend with privacy as a right denied to the popular.

I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee. 

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