Well, let’s get the comparison out of the way first – I’m calling this one a mashup of Ready, Player One (book) and War Games (movie), as directed by John Hughes (80’s movies beloved filmmaker).
The book was first published in 2019. Books about computer tech and social media tend to show their age rapidly, but this story felt current and relevant. Give it another couple of years and that might not be the case, but right now, that’s not a problem. The students at Palo Alto Academy of Science and Technology are up to their eyeballs in all the latest tech, and that includes our protagonist, Opal Hopper. Long story short: Opal uses the tech to become a social media darling, but at a cost. Everything she does is part of a bigger plan that she hopes will ultimately lead to the truth about her father’s mysterious disappearance seven years ago.
While I enjoyed the wild ride of the story as Opal and her friends find themselves in a constantly intensifying situation, I was less than pleased with the writer’s use of character development. Everyone’s core personality was far too flexible. I would rather have seen the author do the hard work of building and retaining strong characters who worked their way through difficult situations, but instead we get situations that are easily resolved by having a character cave in to the circumstances.
And speaking of working through difficult situations – one plotline that permeates the story is the pressure of college application deadlines, which Opal and her pals are all dealing with… or not? Opal stresses like mad about the deadline, blows off an early application deadline, struggles to answer essay questions for the second deadline… and then some time later she casually mentioned that she submitted her application a while ago. It felt like that plotline was temporarily forgotten in the writing process and then quickly patched up later.
So – fun storyline, mostly enjoyable read, but the characters are clearly flawed. I suspect the author is a Pantser, not a Planner. He’s got talent, but needs to apply more of the un-fun work to his manuscripts.