After reading the Selection trilogy, I decided that maybe it wasn’t a bad idea to try reading other books which reminded me of TV shows I didn’t like. (I know, it sounds strange. Bear with me on this.) I’d been hesitant about this book in particular since while it sounded interesting, it also sounded a lot like Survivor and/or The Amazing Race. Neither of those are shows I watch or enjoy.
But then again, neither is the Bachelor, and I liked the Selection well enough. So I came into the book with full motivation, ready to see what this world was all about.
What I quickly found out is that it’s not exactly like Survivor/Amazing Race, though the concept isn’t dissimilar either. A group of people are taken into the wilderness with their cameramen and host, and given challenges to complete. Basic orienteering tools are available as challenge-task rewards, and challenges can be done either solo or in teams. (They’ll tell you which are which.) If you are the last one standing, you will a million dollars. If you find yourself incapable of continuing on, you need only say one phrase and the producers will take you away: Ad tenebras dedi, or “to the night, I surrender.” (How very dramatic.)
We follow a character we only know as Zoo, the nickname the producers have given her. However, the narration bounces back and forth between first-person chapters with Zoo in present time, and third-person omniscient covering the show TV-style from the first day. While I completely understand why it’s told this way, and by the end I think it’s almost necessary, it’s a very jarring switch. Each player has their own reason to want/need the money; they all have their own quirk. It also raises the problem of not knowing anyone’s name: the producers all use nicknames, but in Zoo’s chapters she uses real names–as they’re likely to do with each other. So in one chapter we see “Tracker” and in another “Cooper” and have no idea they’re the same person for several chapters. (At least, I’m pretty sure that’s Tracker’s real name. I’m a little fuzzy on the details.)
Zoo is a sympathetic lead, though her motivation isn’t necessarily all that clear at times. She believes one thing but has a tendency to act differently–and she doesn’t always seem to be clear about what she knows or has seen. I can’t blame her; that long in the wild on my own and I’d be uncertain about what was true and what wasn’t. As the book goes on, you become more and more aware of what’s actually happening, even if Zoo doesn’t, and it’s truly amazing how much the mind can accept as truth.
I have to admit to seeing a bit of Total Drama Island (or really, Total Drama Action more) in all of this. I like Zoo but she’s very much an unreliable narrator. The way the timeline is mishmashed is disruptive even in its necessity, and by halfway through the book I became pretty frustrated with Zoo’s obliviousness. I wish we could have seen a bit more of some of the other characters. The in-between pieces from the message boards were excellent, and a good way to look at all of the action from an outsider’s perspective…and later, a very important plot point.
I waffled between a 3 and 4 star rating for this, simply because I wasn’t really blown away by the story. However, the ending was really nicely executed and that was enough to bump me up a star, even if I think Zoo’s particular ending was iffy. From what I can see, this is Oliva’s first book and on those notes, it’s a well-done one–though I’m not surprised to see this is a first major work. I’d be interested to see how Oliva’s work progresses as time goes on. I see some major potential here. Maybe not the best novel, but definitely one I’d recommend checking out.
Rating: **** – Recommended
THE LAST ONE hit shelves yesterday, July 12th, 2016.