‘Life without hope…
I get the usual burst of pleasure, typing out my catchphrase. Seeing those familiar words, black on white. Proudly I lift my fingers from the keyboard, drumming them on my lips. What next?… it’s imperative I keep every post fresh, see, and more importantly uplifting. I mean people actually live their lives by what I say! What I say matters’
Life’s short. Enjoy it.
This is the slogan of Leata, the wonder-drug that sixteen-year-old Hope has been taking since she was a child, just like the rest of her family. Well, the rest of the country really. For who would choose not to take it – a perfectly safe little pill that just helps ‘take the edge off’ life. Because everyone can do with a little help staying happy sometimes . . . Especially Hope, whose life is maybe not as perfect as she likes to make out on her blog.
What I thought
I found this a really interesting different take on contemporary YA. It’s similar to the Cell 7 series by Kerry Drewery (review of Final 7 here) in the sense that it’s set in a world that is recognisable as ours, and yet slightly different. In Cell 7 it was that the death penalty existed and here it is that the idea of anti-depressants isn’t scorned. One company has become a global phenomenon – Leeta – with their tablet. But instead of it just being available on prescription for people who are depressed this is sold to everyone. And it’s not just that they are being sold to everyone, everyone is taking them. From very young children, to teachers, and to the elderly. Why would teenagers want to stress about exams, or how they look? As an parent why would you want to stress about your children? You can take a tablet and stop stressing and they can take a tablet so there would be nothing for you to stress about anyway. Win-win
To try and get an idea of just how big Leeta is, imagine something like Coke or Apple. Except there is no alternative and it’s the same size as the two combined. And make no mistake this is a company out for profit. All customers are repeat customers so how do you make sure that your profit continues to grow? You invest in bloggers, get teenagers watching people they care about talking about the product and how much it helps them and solves all their problems.
What’s really interesting is the ‘business’ meetings for the top bloggers, and the way that these guys lives and blogs are planned out, such as “you two are going to do joint videos”. What was most uncomfortable was the idea that although they can’t make them become a couple but they’d strongly suggest it/promote it and ‘leak stories’ that say that they are. It’s a scary look into the world of celebrity, because there is no way that this isn’t already happening in various industries as a way to keep people in the public eye. You only have to walk into any corner shop or supermarket to see rows upon rows of magazines with ‘shock couples’ on the front. And it’s one thing when they are adults, or reading them as an adult. You are aware of the manipulations, doesn’t mean you don’t fall for it, but you have more of an idea of what to look for (of course that just makes them find smarter ways to manipulate you). But for a child/teenager to read, they’re not fully aware of it. It’s why there are so many protections put in place for things like fat shaming or stopping the sell of fad diets to teenage girls. In Cloud 9, these things are not only aimed at teenagers but they are using teenagers to do the manipulating. Listening to a girl talk about how a product helps her get through a day at school, makes the other school girls more likely to trust it. And it’s one thing to mention your sponsor at the end of the video or blog. But this isn’t that. This is having every single blog post return to the product. It’s invasive but because its so normalised no one can see it.
Hope is a top Leeta blogger, she’s always doing her best to be helpful and happy. In her eyes being helpful is offering beauty tips or giving someone some of her Leeta stash. She doesn’t want anyone to feel sad and has a way to supply an immediate fix. She starts off quite vapid and on at least 3-4 Leeta tablets a day to try and quash the stress of running a high profile blog as well as maintaining a social life, helping out at home, and her school life. She’s an addict, hating the way real thought feels and any kind of negative emotions. Except it’s not an addiction because taking Leeta is as normal as a mug of tea when you’re feeling stressed. No one goes to AA because they drink too much tea. No one’s an addict for taking Leeta.
What’s interesting is seeing the moments that drive her to taking yet another tablet. It’s in the way she’s desperate not to have to think of certain things, wanting to always stay on that permenant high. Leeta is like having a lobotomy, its not just ignoring negative thoughts its cutting out the possibility for negative thoughts. And if you don’t worry about anything or even allow yourself to think of the potential of something going wrong it leads to a shallow view of the world. Grief hurts but it’s only possible if love exists. If you cut off that grief then it subsequently has to cut the love too.
Tom lives next door to Hope and they were best friends as kids but grew apart. His story starts with him not wanting to take Leeta because his journalist father was against it and died. He doesn’t want to do anything that his father would not have approved of but he also doesn’t want to shut off the grief. He wants to remember, not shove all the memories to the side.
It was Tom’s story that I was most interested in. It’s the personal fights that hurt the most but that also keep you driving. He’s not fighting against ‘The Man’ because it’s cool to fight The Man. If people want to take Leeta that’s fine by him. He’s not looking to upset the society or bring down the government. He just wants to find out the truth behind his dad’s death (just like Katniss wasn’t out to bring down the Capital, she just wanted to protect her sister). For me the personal stories have more truth for them. It’s one thing believing in a cause, but as soon as you have an attachment to it through a person it can bring about a stronger purpose. If it was just about fighting Leeta then it would be too general and easy to give up. But because it’s about his father Tom keeps going (and there are many times where it would have been a hell of a lot easier to give up).
Why I read it:
I picked this one up while browsing the library. It was one of those days where I knew that while I had only officially gone in there to pick up something that I’d ordered in, I also knew I was going to walk out with a my bag full.
This one stood out because of the idea of everyone being ‘helped’ to stay happy and the way everyone would be so open to take the tablets, which is the opposite to how our society thinks about anti-depressants where you’re supposed to hide the fact that you take them and need help.
This was a really strong YA contemporary dystopia (if such a thing exists). It’s similarities to our world with teen bloggers and sponsorship deals made the differences stark and jolt out at the reader.
It’s also very easy and understandable to buy into the hype and the promotion of Leeta. Why wouldn’t you want being happy to be as easy as taking one tablet? Especially if it isn’t something you have to do in secret.
I’d love to see some more stories in this world even though I know that it would never happen. But the idea is so beautifully perverse that I want to know more about how it reached this point.
Would I recommend? It depends who I was talking to, but if they are looking for different mostly contemporary YA then I would suggest this one.
Popsugar: About death/grief, borrowed/given as a gift, problem facing society today
You know what sucks? being ill.. being ill really sucks. Hence why this is out late. I wrote it last week but was just too fatigued to tidy it up or spend the 15-20 minutes needed to put it online.
Anyway, it is here and I’m not ill any more – well not as ill as I was – and so I should *fingers crossed* be back tomorrow.
As always please do leave a comment, it really means the world.
P.S The next review is for ‘An Authentic Experience’ by Kelly Wittmann