YA Weekend: #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 1 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone/Book 1
Publisher: Freeform (August 7, 2018)
Length: 352 pages
I hate giving out 1-stars, and if you’ve followed me for a while, you may have already noticed you don’t see that rating here very often. That’s because even if I didn’t like a book overall, there’s usually still something I enjoyed about it. With #MurderTrending though, I think I’d be hard-pressed to find anything too positive to say about this hot mess. It simply did not work for me—on any level.
But first, here’s the book’s premise for some context of everything I’m going to discuss: It is the near future, and the President of the United States is a former reality TV star who thought it would be a great idea to outsource the justice and penal systems to a psychopath television producer known only by his internet handle, The Postman. Court trials have become a farce where anyone who is merely suspected of murder is pronounced guilty and sent to a prison island near San Francisco, dubbed Alcatraz 2.0, where every inch and corner is surveilled by cameras mounted on robotic birds. This live footage is streamed 24/7 to millions of viewers around the world tuning in to see the prisoners executed in the most brutal ways by federally sanctioned killers with names like Gucci Hangman and Molly Mauler, whose cheesy names and shticks are an attempt to drive up their popularity on social media.
The book follows Dee Guerrera, a teenager who was sent to Alcatraz 2.0 after being wrongfully convicted of murdering her stepsister. She becomes the next victim of Prince Slycer, one of the island’s executioners whose gimmick involves dressing up his executionees as princesses from Disney movies, immediately earning Dee the nickname #CinderellaSurvivor when she manages to escape his clutches. Determined to find her stepsister’s true killer, Dee teams up with other teens on the island in order to expose the reality of Alcatraz 2.0 and bring down The Postman.
Oh boy, where do I start? As an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy I consider myself to be pretty good at suspending my disbelief. But this book was beyond ridiculous. If it weren’t for the over-the-top gore and violence, I would have thought this was written for six-year-olds on account of how juvenile and ludicrous it sounds. Even leaving aside the more nonsensical elements, in today’s world where you pretty much can’t show anything on the television without getting someone up in arms over it, the idea of a 24-hour snuff show garnering wide acclaim and approval from the public isn’t just eye-roll inducing, it makes me want to bash my head against a wall.
And then there were the characters. Had they been written well, perhaps I could have put aside my incredulity of the premise. Unfortunately, at no point in the novel did Dee actually feel like a real person to me. She seemed detached and strangely unconcerned with her circumstances from the moment she arrived on Alcatraz 2.0. Sure, there might have been a brief flash of “Oh crap, I am screwed”, but this was quickly replaced by her utter conviction that she will find her stepsister’s killer—even though she has absolutely no resources on the island, zero places to start, and every reason to believe she’ll be up next on the literal chopping block. Yet there was no fear or sadness. No hopelessness or despair. This isn’t badass. This is bad characterization.
But maybe, just maybe, these characters were actually meant to be caricatures? After all, there was a character whose one memorable trait was his penchant to quote action movies from the 80s and 90s, and even as his friends were dying slow torturous deaths, he was busy channeling Rambo during the rescue mission. I mean, something this fucking goofy has got to be a joke…right? In fact, this entire novel was so absurd and extreme with its irreverence when it comes to violence and death, I was half convinced it was supposed to be ironic. But try as I did to see this novel as satire—a playful mockery on social media and the American obsession with Reality TV, perhaps—it was probably giving it too much credit. If this was meant to be satirical, then the author lacked the delicate expertise to pull it off properly. There was a desperation in the way her narrative attempted to justify the premise (with very flimsy logic) or to endear readers to the characters (by giving them very annoying quirks), and while sometimes exaggeration can be used as an effective device, in this case it was a complete disaster.
There were so many other problems with this novel, not least the fact the story gets even more unrealistic and ridiculous towards the end (believe it or not). Suffice to say, I think I’ve covered all the major disappointments so I’m just going to wrap this up by saying I probably won’t be picking up anything else by the author. I’ve heard that being this insanely over-the-top is part and parcel of her style, and clearly I am not the intended audience.