Friday, May 02, 2014

Feed by M.T. Anderson

This satirical young-adult novel caught my eye in the bookstore because it had been nominated for the National Book Award.  I wasn't aware at the time that the National Book Foundation had a category for YPL, or Young People's Literature, but I am glad I picked up the book anyway.  Feed takes the current commercialized Internet, facebook, and texting, and fast-forwards into a future where people have constant streams of information fed directly into their brains.  The feed has infiltrated so much into the culture that it is the dominant force in the people of the novel's lives, and its influence commercializes everything. The feed offers mostly advertising information to its users, including lingo and images, and the pieces of the feed that are included between chapters illuminate the extent to which even political speech is dumbed-down. In this future, space travel to the moon and Jupiter is also relatively easy, people can "feel" their credit being taken from them, and radiation lesions are commonplace. These facts are taken for granted, and no one seems to question things very much

The language in the novel at first is jarring, not just because it is "typical teen"-speak, but also because it has future slang in it.  After a while, though, the slang is easy to decipher, and doesn't become much of a barrier to enjoying the story, at least for this reader.  There is plenty of crude current-day language in the novel, too, which may stop some parents and does stop me from recommending it for young readers.  The novel tells a boy-meets-girl story, with the twist of a hacker invading "the feed" at a party in the first few chapters. The teens at the party who were affected by the hacker end up spending some time in the hospital to ensure their feeds are still working -- an episode that doesn't stop the main character, a teenage boy, for very long, but which has lasting consequences for Violet, or Vi, his main romantic interest.

The novel is written from the boy's perspective, which is shallow and self-absorbed, as most of us are.  The boy's perspective is an extension of the feed, in some ways, and Vi tries to teach him to resist it.  Vi's character fascinates the boy due to her "old-fashioned" vocabulary, common sense, and wit. She was home-schooled, and her father is a former professor whose vocabulary is even more old-fashioned. I related to the father, as an old fuddy-duddy who loves some old novels/literature and tries in some ways to resist the pull of technology on our lives. The boy sees the father as behind the times, and he is in many ways.  However, even the father cannot resist the feed completely, and he tells his own story toward the end, explaining why he felt he had to provide the feed to himself and his family.

The novel has a somewhat cliched plot buried in all its satirical commentary on consumerist culture.  It is definitely a YA novel, but the thoughts it provokes make it worth reading.  I enjoyed the author's take on where we are headed, and wondered what kind of nightmare the culture can produce if some of the novel's predictions become true.  I ached for the characters by the end.
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