Monday, May 23, 2011

Awaken, Katie Kacvinsky (fiction) - online school, fake trees, real danger

Plastic trees, pre-fab food, every social and business interaction online only - sounds a little tempting when you're caught in traffic on the way to school or trapped in yet another blah-blah-blah lecture course.

But if every minute of school occurs online, the only people you see day in and day out are family members, the only birdsong you ever heard was historic digital audio, the only way you know your thoughts are your own is... well, you couldn't be sure of that, could you?

A prediction? A cautionary tale? Welcome to a future where DigitalSchool shapes young human minds while all other living things become obsolete...

Book info: Awaken / by Katie Kacvinsky. Houghton Mifflin, 2011. [author's website] [fan-created book trailer] [publisher website]

Recommendation: School is completely online in 2060, so Maddie rarely sees anyone in person, except her mom and dad. Why does this Justin guy want to meet her at a face-to-face Tutor session? She could just see him online 24/7, like her other friends all over the world. Anyway, her dad grounded her till age 18 after she went into his DigitalSchool computer two years ago.

Her parents say that Justin is dangerous, that his parents were terrorists, that he’s only trying to see 17-year-old Maddie because of her dad’s DigitalSchool business. But Justin actually speaks to her like a thinking human being, showing her the real Portland with pastries instead of nutri-bars and live musicians instead of soundfiles online.

It seems that not everyone is happy with DigitalSchool. Justin wants her to sneak more information from her dad’s computer so they can crash that system and give kids the chance to get outside, away from computer-simulated beach views and back to the real sand and sea, away from thousands of online friends they’ve never seen and back to interacting with real friends.

During a dangerous DS student “rescue” with Justin, Maddie has to decide whether she’ll abide by her dad’s authoritarian rules or risk losing her place in 2060’s society. Can she trust Justin? Could she really live where trees aren’t plastic and sunsets aren’t on a computer screen? Is there something malicious in DigitalSchool, something bad enough for Maddie to risk life in prison?

A glimpse of a potential future where keeping the peace may be more dangerous to humanity than allowing conflicting ideas… (One of 5,000 books recommended on (advance reader edition courtesy of the publisher through

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