Teenage Book - ACID - Emma Pass (Author)
Recommended for: Teenagers/Adults
I need to make a small confession before I begin this review. Emma is a colleague of mine (from a different library, but a colleague nonetheless), and so even before reading ACID I knew that I was going to be slightly biased towards it. Now, when it comes to books, once you've discovered an author that you love, you're undoubtedly going to be biased towards anything else they write anyway, so think of me as just having skipped the need to become a fan through reading one of her previously published books (which I couldn't be, as this is her debut novel). But at the end of the day, I know that I would have felt the same as I do whether Emma was a colleague or not, because in a word, ACID is brilliant.
Not since first reading The Hunger Games have I chosen to sit down with a book in my spare time instead of browsing the internet or playing a computer game, except during lunch breaks at work and when I'm reading to my son. They coined the term 'page-turner' specifically for books like this. And they invented pillar box red hair dye just so they could give it to kick-ass heroines like Jenna.
I'm a big fan of Dystopian fiction. I've always wondered why people are so taken with stories about how life as we know it has either ended or become so harsh to live with, and I suppose it's because we like to think that no matter how hard times get, we'll still struggle on and survive.
In this particular Dystopian future, ACID is the name of a corrupt and all-powerful police force, ruling over the Independent Republic of Britain. Set in 2113, there's a good dose of futuristic technology, such as 'KOMM' ear pieces which function like personal data machines (imagine phones and the internet in your ear, and I think you're on the right lines), and 'lightfiti' instead of graffiti. Comparisons between ACID and Big Brother are obvious, with people being required to watch the ACID-controlled news reports for several hours a day, and personal ID cards being required for most things. Most of this may not be new, but then what hasn't been thought up before at this point? What's important is that it's done perfectly to enhance the world we see, and this world is clearly one that George Orwell had in mind all those years ago.
Our heroine, Jenna, starts the book in prison for the murder of her parents. She's broken out early on, but exactly why is kept secret from her. With a change of identity she tries to begin anew, but she just can't stay out of trouble, and a chance encounter with the son of one of her rescuers leads her on a whole new path of danger. To say any more would spoil too much of the story, but needless to say it rattles along at a frantic pace, and every time you think there's going to be a lull, the next bit of excitement and drama is just around the corner. There's a couple of parts of the book that could almost be considered reboots within themselves, and it's to the author's credit that not once do these lose focus, or leave you confused as to what's going on. There's even a major scene in a library. Seriously, what more could you want?!
I always find it strange when people will ignore a book just because it's on the teenage shelf. Now, I'm fairly certain there's a whole blog article to write about this somewhere down the line, but basically it's to your own detriment that you write off a teenage book. Whilst there are some teenage books that are all about shopping, talking about boys, or clearly written only with those just turning 13 in mind, essentially a teenage book (particularly for older teens) is just an adult book with a little less swearing (usually), a little less 'rudity' (have I made up a word there?), and a teenager as the protagonist. By no means do teenage books necessarily shy away from difficult subjects, or talking about things in great detail. There are at least two topics in this book that are definitely more 'adult' in theme - not because they're about relationships or sex, but because they're about human rights and the lengths people will go to for their cause. And this is exactly right - teenagers should not be hidden away from difficult topics just because they're under 18 (although undoubtedly parents should use caution with how exactly they are exposed to them). How else are they going to learn to discuss these topics, and formulate their own moral views? This may be written from a teenage point of view, but it's a teenager who is living in an adult world, and who isn't going to have an easy time.
Jenna herself is everything you want from a heroine. She's hard as nails, she's got a fiery personality, and she's got bright red hair (every character is better with bright red hair). She's understandably frustrated with the situation she's in, and the steps that lead her there, but she's also committed to getting justice for the way things have turned out. When she meets up with Max, son of one of her rescuers, the relationship she forges with him is strong enough to spur her on to risk her life in saving his, and it's hard not to root for someone like that really, is it? When you come out of a book wishing that you new the heroine in real life, you know they're someone a bit special. Elsewhere, there are a couple of evil villains lurking around, who play their roles well, even if the Big Bad is perhaps more of a stereotypical evil General than one who's going to make a list of the greatest villains in fictional history (blimey, did I just level a criticism at this book?! Well, it's not a major one - the guy does his job as he's meant to, but he's nothing new). There's another bad guy who I won't say too much about for fear of spoiling a potential twist, but let's just say what he plans to do is deplorable, yet you can see the reasoning behind his actions. He's a far more intriguing character, as he raises some of the moral issues that I mentioned earlier. There's a very similar argument in this area that takes place in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, although ACID stops just short of going to quite the extremes that Battlestar took it. Nevertheless, to me, this is the more evil of the two villains.
But what really sets this book out from the crowd, and what earns it that extra bit of merit that pushes it to brilliance, is the little extras that the author puts in. Just like a viral marketing campaign for a television series or film nowadays (see Lost or The Dark Knight for the best examples), there are extra tidbits of information dotted in between chapters that flesh out the story, such as news reports on Jenna as they would appear to the regular citizen, or transcripts of communication between ACID agents that let us in on secrets that Jenna doesn't know. It makes for such a delight to read, and pulls you more than ever into the world itself, that it's going to be disappointing in every book I read from now on that doesn't feature extras like this. To me, that's what helps push Matthew Reilly to the top of the pile when it comes to Action/Adventure writers, and if Emma doesn't get extra recognition for the enhancements they make to her story, then...well, people are stupid.
I mentioned The Hunger Games before. That was the last book to really excite me. It took a plot (children forced to kill each other) and genre (Dystopian) that had been done before, but did it in such a brilliant way that I didn't care if some of it was familiar. And that's what ACID does - we've seen corrupt governments who spy on you and can track your every move, and the kick-ass heroines who oppose them before, but it's such an entertaining and gripping ride that I just want more. I've read similar stories before and seen them focus more on the boy and girl falling in love than the world around them, which to me is always the most interesting part - there's some romance here but it's secondary to the action, and it remains a story about a girl helping to bring down a corrupt government and ensure justice, not about a girl who falls in love whilst doing so. That makes sense, right? Our heroine falls in love, but she kicks-ass primarily. And she has bright red hair. Perfect.
In a nutshell, ACID did several things for me. It gave me a book that I couldn't wait to pick up again every time I had to put it down. It gave me a new heroine to cheer for. It made me want to focus on writing a novel more than ever (and groan that several ideas I've had have already been written in a much better way than I ever could!). And, most importantly, it made me want to tell everyone I know about it, and demand that they read it themselves. I am going to be pushing this book for a VERY long time. I LOVED it.