Friday, August 29, 2014

Young Adult Fiction: #scandal by Sarah Ockler

As promised, I am covering Sarah Ockler's latest novel, #scandal. It is a story that explores the kind of fallout that can come from a few posted pictures on Facebook after a night of partying with friends. In this age of social media overload, it is easy to find the relevance in a story like this, and I am sure many people, and not just teenagers, could relate to it.

The Situation: Lucy Vacarro is about to graduate from high school. While she would rather be taking out zombies online, she has been recruited by her best friend Ellie to take her place at prom. Ellie has come down with a superflu and can't go to the prom with her boyfriend, Cole. Lucy reluctantly steps in, even wearing Ellie's dress, and joins in the night's festivities not only by going to the dance, but also by accompanying Cole to the after-party. It takes everything Lucy has within herself to ignore the feelings she has had for Cole for the last few years and stay loyal to her best friend. But everything falls apart when Cole kisses her, admitting that he's had the same feelings as well.

The Problem: Betraying her best friend by kissing her boyfriend was bad. But the best friend betrayal is almost forced to take a back seat when pictures from the after-party end up on Lucy's Facebook page, including a picture of Lucy and Cole kissing. Needless to say, Lucy didn't take those pictures or upload them to her own page, but someone did, using Lucy's stolen phone to do so. Now Ellie knows what happened, and the whole school has labeled Lucy both a slut and a narc for uploading pictures from the party and tagging them. And it doesn't help that someone has also created a Facebook page titled "Juicy Lucy" aimed squarely at Lucy, occasionally uploading recent pictures of her as she is just trying to live her life. Now Lucy needs to find out who stole her phone, who took and uploaded the pictures, who created the "Juicy Lucy" page, and who the mysterious Miss Demeanor is: the mysterious keeper of a Facebook gossip page centered around the school and it's students. Unfortunately Lucy is running low on friends, forcing her to join up with the most unlikely group of people.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel with a heavy emphasis on the effects of social media and its potential to put out in public what you would prefer to keep private. With a few clicks, anyone with a camera phone can take a picture and have it uploaded to the Internet within seconds via a variety of outlets. Just by stealing Lucy's phone, someone was not only able to upload embarrassing photos to Facebook, but because they had her phone, they could upload them to her personal account, making it look like she took the photos and published them. Then someone made her the focus of a completely different Facebook page so they could humiliate her further, using the advantage of anonymity that the Internet often affords. All of this is incredibly easy to do and pretty much anyone could pull it off, although there are consequences of course. The events in the novel cause the principal of Lucy's school, Ms. Zeff, to err on the side of caution and begin instituting stricter rules when it comes to electronic devices on campus. There is even a student group on the campus called the Electronic Vanities Intervention League, or (e)VIL, that protests against social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, etc, and naturally uses what has happened with Lucy as part of their argument. Cyberbullying has certainly become a very real problem in recent years, and what has happened to Lucy and her friends is not outside the realm of possibility.

My Verdict: This book had so much potential, but ultimately fails to deliver. It starts off with a completely believable scandal: Lucy is caught making out with her best friends boyfriend, and then incriminating pictures of everyone at the prom after-party show up on her Facebook page, even though she didn't take the pictures or post them. The adventure of finding out who is responsible and clearing Lucy's name should have been thrilling and also satisfying once the guilty party is brought to justice. But instead, what follows is 401 pages of frustration and futility. If Lucy would just speak up for herself and tell her side, honestly, things would have gone a lot better for her. But instead she consistently keeps her mouth shut despite mounting evidence that it is only helping make things worse. Something else making things worse are the people she has surrounded herself with. Her "friends" are either ignoring her or are just no help at all (including Cole, the boy she has been in love with for four years), while those who have signed up to help her are only using her story for their own selfish reasons. Lucy keeps waiting for someone else to speak up for her, while never speaking up for herself. And then, when she has the chance, and with a fairly large captive audience, she totally cops out, and as a reader, it is maddening. It also doesn't help that there is just too much going on in this book, which leaves a lot of loose ends when the book finally ends. I still have questions about what happened with some of the other characters that were seemingly pretty important, but ended up just fading away into the background with no resolution. Overall, the experience was just incredibly unsatisfying.

Favorite Moment: Whenever Ellie, the friend Lucy betrayed, shows up to stand up for Lucy even though she has absolutely no reason to.

Favorite Character: I didn't at all care for any of the human characters, so I pick Lucy's dog, whom she named Night of the Living Dog due to her zombie obsession.   

Recommended Reading: There are much better Ockler books, like Bittersweet or Twenty Boy Summer. Even The Book of Broken Hearts is better than #scandal.

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