by Lenore Appelhans
Published by: Simon and Schuster for Young Readers
Form: Kobo eBook on iPad
Genre: Sci-Fi / Dystopian
Big Themes: Memories, Death, Reconciliation, Friendship, Love, YOLO
*Debut Author Challenge*
Felicia died, and now she’s in Level 2 where she can play back memories of her life as well as share her memories with others. But what she doesn’t know is that there is a war going on that is preventing humans from moving on to the next level.
I’m going to start my review on a positive note, and tell you the things the author did well. But overall, I was disappointed with this debut because of its unrealized potential.
This was the most interesting concept that Appelhans came up with. Each memory could be played like a Youtube video. It had tags, user ratings, and number of views. I loved this concept and what it revealed to you as a reader when you saw what each memory was tagged as and what the ratings were. This was a great intertextual detail and a fresh idea. You also learn as the story progresses that users earn credits for each time their memories are viewed, and people with the best memories become “rich.” This was sad for one particular character who didn’t have many positive memories to share, and thus was broke. I even wish this idea had been explored even more because it was so fascinating.
I was extremely intrigued for the first four chapters as to what Felicia had done wrong and how she’d managed to ruin her life. The author gives you all these hints and clues as to Felicia having made huge mistakes that she regretted in her life, and as a reader, you understood not wanting to face the worst parts of your life. It sort of set Felicia up as an unreliable narrator who wasn’t telling you everything, but with the memory system, you figured that you would find out eventually.
Flashbacks can often screw with pacing, but I found that the flashbacks were by far my favorite moments in the book. Often the settings in the flashbacks were beautifully described and sensory experiences. Some of my favorite scenes: musical goat trip, hearing Neil sing, the church game, and sushi with Autumn.
Problems I Had:
All my notes for the first four chapters were so positive, but as the story continued you can see my notes get more and more frustrated. I’m going to try to divide my problems into categories. I don’t necessarily blame the author for these issues. These are things that editors and beta readers should have questioned and given her time to work on.
Lack of World Building:
I’m very confused because I’ve read reviews that praise Appelhan’s world-building. I’ll admit that the flashbacks are vivid and beautiful. I’ll concede that her memory concept is very cool. But I found the actual world of Level 2 to be lacking in both detail and logic. The only things I can tell you about Level 2 are that there are: never-ending hives, a lot of white, grooves, and crevices. Here is a sampling of questions I had while I was reading:
- How do people find their way around? This is never clearly explained.
- How are the hives organized?
- What is the key difference between life on Earth and Level 2?
- Why do people have no hair?
- How does materialization work?
- If you can’t feel anything, because you’re dead, than why would you feel the after effects of being drugged? Same with going off the drugs, why should you feel deprived?
- Why can you feel some things and not others?
- Why can you be wounded if you’re dead?
- Why can you die? If you’re already dead…
- How can people be erased if their memories are accessible via the computer system they have?
- Why do characters need rest if they’re dead?
- If they can materialize anything they want, why would they choose an antiquated bow and arrow instead of say… a machine gun?
Appelhan chose a super tough setting to tackle in her debut novel: the afterlife. But I’m not going to give her a free pass on logic just because it’s a mystical place. I think if people had asked her some of these questions, and she’d been forced to think about the rules of her world, then we might have gained a clearer understanding of this fascinating vision of the afterlife.
Lack of Connection to the Rebellion:
I had so many problems with the rebellion. First was the total lack of threat. All we see in the beginning of the book are these blinking scanner things that don’t actually do anything to harm them. And there’s people hiding and saying to be careful. But we don’t actually see any of these scanners do anything threatening… ever.
Then we’re told there are these evil Morati angel people. But we don’t actually see them… until chapter 19 (of 21). We don’t know what they look like or have seen them actually do anything. All we have to go on is what three people tell us about them. You can’t keep you main antagonist off-screen like this for the whole book. It doesn’t work. If you want me to be invested in a rebellion, then I have to understand who/what I’m rebelling against.
We do get these weird zombie things. They were kind of scary, but their appearance was brief (and not until chapter 17 of 21). There were two zombies. Two. And they chopped their heads off, no sweat. That was the biggest threat in the whole book. Two zombies.
And my final issue with the rebellion is that we don’t meet many rebels. We meet three: Julian, Mira, and Eli. That’s it. But then, at the end of the book, it says, “I see Mira and Eli leading a charge of several thousand rebel troops against the Morati palace.” What?!?! We only saw three rebels the entire book and suddenly there are THOUSANDS. And this epic, huge battle… is only one paragraph and told to us from off-screen. Felicia isn’t there. Nor did we know of any plans of an epic battle to attack the palace. And what is this palace? Why would you keep this action off-screen? You’re completely keeping your reader isolated from this rebellion. I wasn’t invested in it at all. I had no emotional ties to what was going on.
I get the vibe that Felicia was some sort of chosen one, and they needed her energy… to power the world? I really did not understand. Many times we are given really obvious hints that Felicia is super powerful and extra special. Think like the Matrix and Neo being the One. But I still don’t understand all the energy stuff or why she’s so coveted by both sides of the rebellion.
I was excited at the beginning of the book because I thought what made her special was that she had mad computer hacking skills. And I thought she’d be able to use those skills in this world of Level 2. But that never happened… Instead Felicia has some special energy… and can materialize stuff really well… and gets over drugs fast… (I still don’t understand the materialization process which seems to require no skill and has no limitations.) If you’re going to make a character into the Chosen One, then I better understand why they’re so special, and in Felicia’s case… I didn’t.
Repetitive Structure and Writing Techniques:
I began to get really tired of cliffhangers at the end of every short chapter. I felt like I was constantly getting splashed with ice cold water. Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming! Actually, after the first few times, if you toss ice water at me enough, I will expect it. The cliffhangers grew repetitive. There are other ways to end a chapter and still get the reader to keep reading. You don’t have to always throw out a surprise. Mix it up.
And there were some cliché similes that kept popping up at the end of paragraphs, such as:
“I almost feel like I’m a lab rat in some futuristic sci-fi maze.”
“…like a starving person begging for crumbs.”
Other Things that Bugged Me:
-Characters disappearing for pages and suddenly reappearing.
-When things were revealed.
-The big reveal about Autumn at the end.
-The big reveal about Julian at the end.
-The big reveal about Neil at the end.
(Don’t want to discuss the reveals because that would mean spoilers, but if you want to discuss, let me know.)
I was really looking forward to this book, and while there were some things it did well, overall I was disappointed. On goodreads, I gave the book 3 stars, but it would probably be more like a 2 and a half.