Saturday, December 26, 2015

NEED by Joelle Charbonneau

A new networking site has appeared in Nottawa, Wisconsin and it is like nothing the teens at Nottawa High School have seen before.  Instead of the usual friend requests and invitation to games, NEED asks you what you need and then allocates the number of people you need to invite to NEED for your need to be met.  It seems simple enough, but what happens when everyone from NHS is already a member and there are no other people to invite - how will people meet the requirements of NEED then?  It seems as though Kaylee and the rest of her fellow students are about to discover that for themselves as they sign up with the website.  The website has features that make everyone anonymous, and there are account settings that can hide your account from the rest of the members, but social media is not as secret as people think.

Some of the needs seem frivolous to Kaylee - other students are asking for cellphones, computers, and better marks at school - but all Kaylee really needs is a new kidney for her brother.  After faking illness to gain access to the medical information about other students, and demanding people get their blood tested to see if they are a match, Kaylee is the social pariah of her school and even her mother thinks she is unstable.  When Kaylee begins to see the darker side to NEED she reaches out to her best friend and the local police, but things don't exactly go to plan.  NEED seems to have a life force of it's own, and if Kaylee can't figure out the secrets behind the website then her graduating class may be significantly smaller than expected.  As the girl who cried wolf Kaylee is fighting an uphill battle to gain credibility, and maybe that's for the best - because what if she really is having a break with reality and what she thinks is happening really isn't happening?

Following up from a successful series is always a challenge for an author, especially when your first books are something of a secret success story.  Joelle Charbonneau's Testing trilogy was a fresh voice in the popular dystopia genre, and it was a pleasant surprise to find her work set in a contemporary world was just as enthralling and addictive.  The voices of Kaylee and her fellow students are clear and distinct, and through rapidly changing viewpoints we get to experience the story from multiple points of view as the story progresses - rather than having a single character narrate the story.  The switching viewpoints seemed like a poor choice at first because it took a while to get under the skin of the characters because you perched on their shoulders like nervous birds before flitting off to the next character - but it really comes into it's own when the pace of the story picks up and the different characters play their parts in the unfolding story.

Every character in NEED is flawed and completely human, Kaylee is desperate to save her brother and that drives her to be subversive and devious.  Her mother is trying to protect her brother and herself and acts as any defensive parent might.  The different students act in ways that are predictable as well - as teenagers they are expected to start making adult choices, but they are also treated like children.  There are some truly sneaky and despicable characters here to grumble about, as well as some surprising moments of change and growth.  This is one of those stories that doesn't pull punches for a teen audience - there is death, dark secrets, and the characters are manipulated into acts that you wouldn't think teenagers would willingly do for such "small" rewards.  There are a lot of elements here of different genre - the most prominent being the psychological thriller and drama, but it is also a very deftly written tale that has it's own unique voice within those genre.

Charbonneau has created an excellent stand alone read with NEED and has proven beyond a doubt that she is not a one horse wonder.  There is a lot to like with NEED, and it will appeal to anyone who enjoys an intelligently written novel of suspense and drama - including the adults who have been increasing their habit of sneaking into teen reads over the past few years. 

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Reviewed by Brilla

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