Sunday, March 13, 2016
Viral by Helen Fitzgerald
What would you do if the worst/dumbest/grossest thing you had ever done was captured on film and became a viral hit? Would you run, would you hide, would you fight back? Su Oliphant-Brotheridge and her sister Leah are celebrating their A-Levels with a holiday in Magaluf when Su is caught on camera performing oral sex on men in a night club, and thanks to the wonder of modern technology what would have once been a shameful secret to hide among friends has become one of the most shared videos in the world. Su was supposed to be the sensible sister, the baby chosen from Korea as a baby and brought back to Scotland, the one who is all set to start university to become a doctor. Leah is supposed to be the wild child, the daughter they never expected to have, the miracle pregnancy after the arrival of baby Su. For years Su has been everything her parents expect, while Leah has been everything her mother can't stand - but it wasn't Leah who did the deed, it was Su. Too embarrassed to return home, Su goes into hiding and leaves Leah to return home alone.
One night of bad decisions will have a powerful impact on all their lives - not just on Leah and Su, but also their parents. Their mother Ruth is a judge, a very focused and practical woman who can focus on a case with single minded determination - a judge who has the rug pulled out from under her when she sees the video. Their father Bernie may be more laid back but he is determined to fight for is daughter, even if his plans bring him into conflict with his wife. With single minded determination Ruth sets out to prove that Su was a victim. Reaching out to the police and professional colleagues she tries to figure out who the "bad guys" are so she can seek her own form of restorative justice. When the unthinkable happens the whole family is in danger of being pulled apart, and then comes another blow, and another. For the first time in her life Su is living each day as it comes, taking risks and living in the moment - with each day that passes her infamy grows and her choices seem to shrink. If your worst mistake went viral would you run like Su, or fight like Ruth?
I won a copy of Viral via Instagram and I was very impressed from start to finish. The story starts with a bang and the pressure continues to build throughout the novel as the shifting points of view of Su, Leah, and Ruth drives the story towards a satisfying and realistic conclusion. This may be Su's story, but it could just as easily be the story of hundreds if not thousands of young woman who get drunk or high on drunks and get filmed engaging in sex acts that have the potential to ruin their lives. A moment of thoughtlessness, a decision to get "wasted", an unwatched drink could lead to a situation like Su's for any of us - but rather than being preachy and in your face about, Fitzgerald offers a point of view of someone who is living the nightmare. Through Bernie, Leah and Ruth we get to experience what it is like for the family too - the embarrassment, the rage, the concern, the fear, and the despair.
Su and her story may be fiction, but it is an engaging story that sucks you in and makes you realise just how damaging these events can be. Some authors tackle real life topics and turn them into a lecture, preaching at their audience through characters that seem flat and two dimensional. From the start Su jumped off the page as a real person, followed closely by the larger than life character that is Ruth and the somewhat cliched (but justifiably so) Leah. The language will unsettle some parents and younger teens, so this book is best read by older teens who can handle seeing the F word and who can process the emotional aspects of this book. As the story unfolds in the present and in the past we learn more about these three women and what lead to the path they are on - supported and loved Su, the "neglected" and "rejected" Leah, and the perfectionist Ruth and her dislike for social workers. I wanted to read Viral as soon as I saw the blurb and I am really impressed with the final product. An excellent read and one that could become the next Go ask Alice, warning a generation to protect themselves from becoming a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons. Like Su's video this book deserves to go Viral.