by Tony Bertauski
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia
Reading Grade: Young Adult
Publication Date: December 31, 2011
Source: Kindle store
Age Rating: 15+
When kids awake on an island, they’re told there was an accident. Before they can go home, they will visit Foreverland, an alternate reality that will heal their minds. Reed dreams of a girl that tells him to resist Foreverland. He doesn’t remember her name, but knows he once loved her. He’ll have to endure great suffering and trust his dream. And trust he’s not insane. Danny Boy, the new arrival, meets Reed’s dream girl inside Foreverland. She’s stuck in the fantasy land that no kid can resist. Where every heart’s desire is satisfied. Why should anyone care how Foreverland works? Together, they discover what it’s really doing to them.
This is a pretty interesting sci-fi novel with a decidedly different type of dystopian “society” portrayed compared to all myriad The Hunger Games-eqsue novels being published. The story takes place on a remote island closed off from the rest of the world and these boys, ranging from ages 13 to 18, all live there not having a clue as to why. But, they just do what they are told by the people who run the island—a bunch of old dudes about to croak from old age. The boys have virtually no memory of who they are. They get to study without doing homework, or taking tests and they get to play video games as much as they want.
It's practically paradise for boys and young men, minus the presence of any females, except that every couple of weeks or so, they must endure torture for about a day so that they will want to voluntarily plug into a network that will allow them to escape into a virtual reality that takes them away from their physical suffering. I know—that makes no sense, but as you read the story, it starts to make sense. Like a mystery novel, this one unravels piece by piece and answers (almost) all of your questions by the end.
The story mostly follows a 13-year-old computer hacking genius named Danny, or 'Danny Boy' as he is typically called. He has been acquired by his Investor to live on the island for unknown reasons, just as every other boy on the island has been. All of them have their own Investor, an old man with creaking bones who seems to take care of them and looks after them. The boys are told that they are on the island to rewrite their minds, like rewriting a faulty computer program, because the boys' lives had been so awful, they need new mental programming. That's why they go into the needle—the way into the network that leads to the alternate reality they call Foreverland.
Each boy has a hole in his forehead in order to insert the needle, which then causes them to enter Foreverland. Foreverland is like being in a lucid dream. You can do anything and everything you've ever wanted to do. It's super fun and addicting, and the boys all look forward to it, even when not stripped naked and cold water-tortured. But, there's one boy named Reed who simply endures the torture and never takes the needle, no matter how much they torture him. Reed says he dreams of a red-haired girl who tells him not to take the needle—never to take it because they'd never get to be together otherwise. He doesn't remember who she is, but it's enough that he believes he once knew her.
Danny starts going into Foreverland, but because of Reed's abstinence, he starts to get suspicious of everything going on with the program. Why are they all there? Who were they before they came to the island? Why do they need to be tortured just to take a needle and why do they need to go into Foreverland? What really happens to the boys when they graduate? Why do the graduate's Investors suddenly disappear? Danny uses his computer hacking skills to dig deeper into the truth and the truth is shocking! This makes for a pretty great unraveling mystery and I can easily see this as a future film.
Despite how cool this novel is, it isn't perfect. There are too many POVs going on and sometimes they hop around in the middle of paragraphs without any transition. My biggest reading pet-peeve. Also, don't expect too much character development because it's not much of a character driven story. Although, I love the issues and themes this novel addresses—what is the nature of reality? Is reality real, or is our dream life the reality? Men will stop at nothing to satiate their own greed—stuff like that. But, I wanted to see how these issues affected the characters themselves. Getting inside their emotions would have allowed me to empathize with them and really feel their problems for what they were worth.
Still, this is great science fiction and the perfect dystopian novel for anyone who wants to read something different from The Hunger Games-type of dystopia. Since it's self-published, I wasn't surprised to see a lot of missing words, indicating lack of proper editing, but they were words I could fill in on my own. This is the type of YA literature that may leave you contemplating human existence and reality itself.
My score: 4/5 stars.