Sunday, December 18, 2011

Unison Spark Book Review

Author: Andy Marino. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Henry Holt and Co. ISBN: 9780805092936.
Unison Spark
Annotation:  Mistletoe and Ambrose are two fifteen-year-olds living very different lives in a futuristic world obsessed with Unison: an all-consuming, virtual reality social network. Suddenly, their two lives intersect and they realize that their shared past might be the key to the future of Unison.
Personal thoughts:  I really love the concept of the all-consuming social network and so I really wanted to love this novel. Unfortunately, I found it to be too confusing and the characters too under-developed for me to really enjoy it. There were definitely some highpoints in the story (I thought the topside/sub-canopy idea to be interesting and the descriptions of holo-fashion and life in Unison), but I just could not get into the book. One of my biggest problems was that I didn’t like Mistletoe at all, but there was no one else in the story for me to really latch onto as my preferred character. That being said, however, I do think that Andy Marino has some really great ideas that I would love to see flushed out more in future novels. I would definitely be interested in picking up his next book to see what it’s like!
Plot summary: In the futuristic town of Eastern Seaboard City, society is divided into the canopy and sub-canopy zones, separated by a steel barrier that keeps the rich and poor from intermingling. Fifteen-year-old Mistletoe lives in the sub-canopy with her guardian, Jiri, dreaming of what life must be like topside for those who can afford to be a part of Unison. Described as the great-great-grandchild of Facebook or Myspace, Unison is a virtual reality social network that most people living above the canopy spend their lives logged into, their “fleshbound” existence no longer important. Ambrose Truax, the fifteen-year-old son and heir of Unison’s creator, Martin Truax, spends his life helping his father and brother, Len, manage Unison. Mistletoe and Ambrose are about to cross paths, however, when a mysterious message transferred to Ambrose against his will warns him that his life is a lie and that his father cannot be trusted. Longing for the truth, Ambrose leaves his privileged life topside and ventures down into the sub-canopy city of Little Saigon. After saving him from a run-in with police intent on returning him to his father, Mistletoe and Ambrose discover that they have something startling in common: a shared nightmare of a stark lab and grisly wires. What is the connection between Mistletoe and Ambrose, and how will the truths they eventually uncover affect the future of Unison?
Review:  This debut novel from author Andy Marino weaves an interesting but often overly complicated tale that, unfortunately, makes for a confusing read. The overall concept and setting of the novel is, by far, Marino’s biggest achievement. The topic of extreme social-networking is something that has been featured more and more in popular culture in recent years, particularly through movies like Gamer and Surrogates. Readers who are familiar with these films will undoubtedly see plot similarities: the idea of people ceasing to exist in their physical lives and instead being only digital projections, the ability to form a new identity online that is completely different from reality. Marino adds new elements to these concepts by including things like status updates, friend requests, event invites, and other Facebook-ish terms that readers, especially teens, will be able to identify with. The society in which Unison exists is also interesting, with the topside/sub-canopy distinction, holo-fashion and atmoscrapers. Where the novel falls flat, however, is in character development. Mistletoe and Ambrose are the two most flushed out personalities in the story, but are still difficult to side with because the reader knows so little about them. Other, more promising characters are introduced but given no opportunity for development. The result is a plot that is full of twists, turns, and complexities but is unable to engage the reader, leaving them, instead, confused. It is clear that author Andy Marino has many interesting ideas, however, and hopefully, in upcoming novels, improvements will lead to more enjoyable and engaging stories.  
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Themes:  Social networking, technology, dystopian, virtual reality.  
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.   
Series Information: N/A   
Discussion questions: 
- Do you think that a program like Unison is the future of Facebook or Myspace? Why or why not?
-  If you lived in Eastern Seaboard City, would you want a Unison account? Why or why not?
- How do you think social networking currently influences the way people interact in person? How do you think that will change in the future?
- Why do you think the corpses were left on display in the airlock between the sub-canopy and topside zones?
- Explain your interpretation of the novel’s conclusion.

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