024. The Unidentified by Rae Mariz
Publication: Balzer + Bray (October 5, 2010), ebook, 308pp / ISBN 0061802085
Genre: YA Fiction (dystopic?)
Read: February 1, 2012
Summary from Amazon:
Fifteen-year-old Katey (aka Kid) goes to school in the Game—a mall converted into a “school” run by corporate sponsors. As the students play their way through the levels, they are also creating products and being used for market research by the sponsors, who are watching them 24/7 on video cameras.
Kid has a vague sense of unease but doesn’t question this existence until one day she witnesses a shocking anticorporate prank. She follows the clues to uncover the identities of the people behind it and discovers an anonymous group that calls itself the Unidentified. Intrigued by their counterculture ideas and enigmatic leader, Kid is drawn into the group. But when the Unidentified’s pranks and even Kid’s own identity are co-opted by the sponsors, Kid decides to do something bigger—something that could change the Game forever.
I love dystopian fiction, but sometimes I get really tired of post-apocalyptic dystopias. Futuristic dystopias, of the kind where the society is still fully functioning and alive and whatnot, are one of my favorite kinds of non-apocalyptic dystopias. Think Feed or Uglies (although I suppose technically that’s a post-apocalyptic society which has become stable again) or even Inside Out. The Unidentified is somewhere along those lines: it’s a futuristic world built on some of the lines that American society is currently traveling on with an emphasis on the negative over the good. So, basically, it’s what might happen if our obsession with reality TV, consumerism, fame/celebrity, plus the government/ad corporations’ obsession with monitoring people, are ramped up to 11.
Unlike Feed, The Unidentified didn’t gross me out with its technology (no brain implants or meat farms). And unlike Uglies, the society in The Unidentified is less obviously abhorrent. I think it’s ridiculous to sell out public schooling to ad corporations, and I don’t like the emphasis on popularity and getting “branded,” but I thought that teaching math and whatever through video games was actually pretty clever. None of the kids in this book are stupid– they were all given the chance to focus on things that they enjoyed and they excel at them, while still getting a pretty rounded education. If we had schools like the one in The Unidentified, only without the creepy monitoring system or having to play to big business, I definitely wouldn’t have left high school early.
On the other hand, that isn’t the point of The Unidentified. We don’t see a whole lot of the society Kid lives in outside of the Game, but it doesn’t seem all that nice. I also think that, though the kids seem to get a decent education, they mostly get schooled in the ways of becoming a celebrity, which isn’t exactly what you need to have a society that can actually function beyond reality shows and spending money. Probably the scariest part of The Unidentified, however, is the fact that the government and all those kids’ parents thought that turning their kids into cogs in the advertising machine was a good idea. How did that happen? Did no-one fight it? Or were we all so used to being cogs anyway that we didn’t see the point in fighting? That’s pretty scary, too.
Luckily there are some kids that want to fight back themselves! Including Kid, who is probably one of my favorite kinds of heroines out there. She’s smart and she’s willing to do stuff that she thinks is right, and if this were a post-apocalytpic dystopia she’d probably be, like, one of the leaders against the local tyrant or whatever. It’s interesting how she’s almost genderless, though. Her nickname (“Kid”) could be meant for a dude or a lady. She isn’t a typical “girly girl.” The romance is pretty low-key, almost pointless when compared to the rest of the story. Even her narrative voice is pretty masculine, if you compare it to some other dystopian novels with female protagonists. I’m guessing that’s so boy readers don’t get scared away by a “girl book,” but it’s nice nevertheless to have a female protagonist who doesn’t worry about not being stereotypically girly while ALSO not being an excepto-girl.1
I wish the ending was a bit stronger (punchier?), though I guess a full-out riot wouldn’t have really fit in with the rest of the book. This isn’t a thriller, despite how awesome that’d be, and it’s not even much of a conspiracy since the conspirators are well-known from the outset. It’s more like a slow, quiet, coming-of-age novel in a dystopic setting, although even the label “dystopia” is somewhat negligible. The world of The Unidentified is a suped-up version of the (Western) world we already live in, both good and bad. There are some things that need fixing, and there needs to be more options for people who don’t fit into a specific mold, but overall it’s not as terrible as it was even a few generations ago. Maybe if we’d seen more of the world outside of the Game I’d be saying something different, but as I don’t think there’s going to be a sequel this is what I’m saying now.
Basically: I really liked it. I liked that the “dystopia” wasn’t actually all that dystopic, but that it was still unsettling in ways that were important. I think any kid who reads this would start questioning things that maybe they weren’t questioning before, which is awesome. And I think that, at its core, it’s just a very enjoyable book that a lot of people would like reading.
I really liked it!
Presenting Lenore: “Though the plot is minimal, the setting and world building shines with perceptive insights into the effects of social media and branding. I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the Game, and following Kid’s journey from introverted wallflower with low scores to empowered, conscientious consumer.”
Steph Su Reads: “THE UNIDENTIFIED is smart, but it’s also hardly boring. Kid’s voice is fresh, with just the right amount of quippy attitude. She’s the perfect balance of the observant outsider with the propensity to create change, and the gullible market to which the Corporations are pandering.”
Stop, Drop, and Read!: “I have to say, I was disappointed with the novel. I expected some really hardcore conspiracy plot to ensue, but received none. The writing is fine and the setting of the story is definitely different. However, I thought I was going to get a lot more out of the story than I did.”
It’s kind of interesting how most modern futuristic dystopias always have elements of the internet/video games/TV/etc. in them, specifically focused on the negative aspects of those things. It makes me want to read older futuristic dystopian books and see what they worried about. Nuclear power, maybe?
From the author’s Q&A:
I intended to describe an optimal learning environment for functioning in a hyper-contemporary world and it turned into what people are calling a dystopia, so I hope no one hands me the controls to their society.
Book cover comes from Amazon. It’s not mine.
- she doesn’t call herself a tomboy, either. She’s just herself! It’s awesome. ↩