Friday, December 23, 2011

Scored Book Review

Author: Lauren McLaughlin. Release date: 2011. Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9780375868207. 
Annotation: In the not too distant future, an individual’s future is determined by the score they receive upon completing high school, a score that is calculated through lifelong surveillance and a software program that judges everything from academic performance to actions. Imani LeMonde is only one month away from completing high school with a very high 92, but her score is jeopardized by her low-scoring best friend, a 71.  

Personal thoughts: For me, this was one of those novels that had a concept I really loved by an execution that left me wanting just a bit more. I really wish that the author would have gotten more into exactly how the score worked. She touched on it from time to time, but I was never sure if it was Imani’s paranoia that caused her to think the cameras could judge facial expressions, movements, and other everyday behavior, or if that was really the case. I did enjoy Imani’s various battles with her conscience and thought the opportunity for social commentary was interesting, however. I think the author has a lot to say and that her point was expressed successfully in the novel.

Plot summary: After the second Great Depression created an insurmountable gap between the rich and the poor, a powerful company known as Score Corp created a new system to give everyone an equal chance at going to college and achieving the American dream: the Score. From kindergarten on, children are under constant surveillance by Score Corp’s “eyeballs,” cameras that exist to monitor their actions, behavior, friendships, academic performance and more. High school senior Imani LeMonde has worked hard her whole life to have the very high score of 92. Her best friend, Cady Fazio, however, is only a 71, and associating with her is a constant threat to Imani’s score. So far, Imani’s score has not been too impacted by her friendship, but after Cady is caught in a relationship with an unscored boy at their school, Imani’s score suddenly plummets to a 64. At Somerton High, there are only two kinds of unscored students: the uber-rich who can buy a college education, and the untouchable “peasants” who refuse to be scored because they are morally opposed or simply cannot afford it. In an effort to restore her high score, Imani begins a secret collaboration with Diego, an intelligent but unscored boy at her school, who thinks they are merely working together on an essay contest for a college scholarship. Imani hopes that gathering information from Diego, whose mother is a prominent anti-Score Corp lawyer, will improve her score. But once Imani begins to learn more about the truth of the score and its creators, will she be as loyal to the score as she once was?

Review: Part dystopian fiction part social commentary, Scored is an interesting if not fully expanded novel for teens who want something to think about. While the score is the focus of the story, the exact mechanics of the scoring process are somewhat glossed over, leaving the reader longing to learn just how the elusive numbers are generated. Reference to a sophisticated software program are often made, but the author does not dive further into the computerized aspects of the scoring process. How do the Score Corp eyeballs watch everyone all at once? Are points added or subtracted by analyzing facial expressions? Do eyeballs exist in people’s homes? These are just a few of many questions that are never really answered in the novel, and could have used flushing out. Despite these missed opportunities, however, Scored does manage to delve quite deeply into the concepts that surround the score: social order, merit, socioeconomic disparities, and more. The idea of a caste system is brought up often, and conversations between characters, particularly Imani and Diego, will certainly leave readers who something to ponder after they’ve finished the book. Although it does seem more of a vehicle for the author to comment on the current state of education, particularly things like standardized testing and No Child Left Behind, Scored is an interesting and thought-provoking novel that many are sure to find enjoyable.

Genre: Science-fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Variant by Robinson Wells.  

Themes: Education, society, dystopian, school, discrimination, friendship.

Awards/Reviews: Positive reviews from Kirkus and VOYA.

Series Information: N/A

Discussion questions:

- Do you think that a company like Score Corp will ever be created in our society? Why or why not?

- If you lived in Imani’s world, would you want to be scored or unscored? Why?

- Why do you think her relationship with Cady caused Imani’s score to plummet?

- Would you break your pact with Cady if you were Imani? Why or why not?

- Why do you think Diego chose to be unscored?

- Do you think, in the end, that Imani did the right thing? Why or why not?

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