It is 2053 and the majority of the world has been enmeshed—connected to one another through their brains to the multiweb. Twelve-year-old Hana Hsu is envious of her sister Lin as it is nearly her turn to mesh, which means Hana will be the only one in her family left on the outside. Though Hana is a part of the elite Start-Up class, she nonetheless feels separated from her mother and sister, especially in the wake of her Ba’s recent death. Each day introduces Hana to new people who challenge her understanding of her world, making her question everything she initially blindly accepted as reality. As she gets deeper into her training, truths are revealed that require Hana to choose sides in a dangerous battle she never saw coming.
This fast-paced middle grade novel contains elements of several stories that have been incorporated into an entertaining new package. Hana lives in a future that is reliant upon technology, where people and machines work in tandem and frequently intertwine. The effects of global warming are omnipresent, from mentions of a perpetually gray sky to coastal cities buried under feet of water. Within all of this is a corrupt government that claims to have the people’s best interests at heart, but with a little bit of digging, lies and deception become obvious. Bouncing between a physical reality and a game-centered virtual reality, Hana and her companions interact with one another in novel and compelling ways as they get closer to uncovering the secrets they seek.
Fans of high-octane stories like The Hunger Games will fall easily into this similarly dystopian tale. Readers with an interest in massive MMORPG and VR gaming will likewise appreciate the easy incorporation of avatars and gaming tropes that occur in this story. Much like a middle grade interpretation of Ready Player One, this novel emphasizes the fact that the virtual world is just as important as the physical one as complex truths come to light. Realistic predictions of a not-too-distant future make the setting accessible to young readers, especially as Chinese culture and widespread technology are embedded within the plot. Middle grade readers are sure to connect with Hana on an emotional level, as well, as she manages complicated feelings within the context of an exciting and memorable story. This is an excellent addition to library collections for middle grade readers.
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