Author: Gretchen McNeil
Genre: Young Adult, Horror
Date of Publication: August 7, 2018
Dee Guerrera is innocent of killing her step-sister, but this doesn’t stop her from being convicted of first-degree murder and sent to the country’s top prison – Alcatraz 2.0. However, Dee doesn’t spend the rest of her life trapped in a tiny cell. Instead, she becomes one of many stars of a sick reality TV show. Everyday she goes to work at an ice cream parlour on the island called “I Scream” and returns home to her house in the barracks. But this isn’t an idyllic, peaceful existence. She—along with all the other convicted criminals—are always in danger. Because on Alcatraz 2.0, there are serial killers who hunt down the prisoners, and the killings are live-streamed for the millions of fans watching from the luxury of their homes.
I absolutely devoured this book in one sitting. It is a fun, campy, thrilling read with lots of relevant references to pop culture. However, there aren’t any pop culture references that would date the book. McNeil limits herself to mentions of things like Disney princesses, and classic movies like Rambo and Die Hard. It’s definitely a good idea to stick to the classics, because if you focus too much on a movie that’s a passing fad, the book will lose its relevance in a few years.
#Murdertrending reminds me a lot of The Hunger Games, but it’s a lot less emotionally taxing. While I loved those books, they took themselves very seriously and Suzanne Collins was absolutely relentless in her attempts (successful attempts, I might add) to make me bawl my eyes out. This is a much more “fun” approach to the reality-TV show where teenagers are hunted down and killed. There’s quite a bit of humour (a lot of it black, but not all of it), but the book isn’t without its intensity. McNeil makes us care for characters before she does what she will to them.
Some of the complaints about this book are that it’s far-fetched. A former reality star turned president is the cause of what society has turned into! How far-fetched! America would never elect a former reality TV—never mind. All joking aside, the story isn’t too inconceivable, and it definitely holds a mirror up to what society is becoming, which adds a hint of unsettling-ness to an otherwise fun read.
As I just mentioned, the novel’s concept and many of the elements introduced throughout the story are a commentary on current society. For example, there are a few times in the book where the reader is treated to the comment feeds of the viewers who are watching this reality TV show. Viewers have become apathetic towards the pain of others. These are “criminals” in Alcatraz 2.0, so they apparently deserve to be serial killed. (Insert exaggerated eye roll here). There’s a lot of #fakenews thrown around, conspiracy theorists who question everything, and this TV show has amassed an obsessed and decidedly-creepy fandom. At one point the audience is fangirling over a character’s outfit while she’s fighting for her life. McNeil is definitely making a statement here!
While the ridiculousness fit with the satire quite nicely, I did find that it got a little too far-fetched for me towards the end. The ways that the protagonist outsmarts the bad guys are very implausible. Very. I mean, maybe one or two villains can be stupid and gullible, but they all shouldn’t be. These twists were still enjoyable, but I did groan a few times.
This satire is extended to the characterization of the protagonists of the novel. Dee Guerrera meets several other prisoners her age when she’s first imprisoned on Alcatraz 2.0. At first, they’re all two dimensional people – the jock, the cheerleader, the nerd. But it’s quickly revealed that they’re voluntarily playing the role that they were assigned by the “Postman”, the producer of this widely-popular reality show. I loved the characters and the directions that McNeil chose to go with them. They’re quite diverse in every way, and I think that any teenager will have a hard time reading this book and not relating to at least one of these criminals.
All in all, I recommend this to anyone who’s looking for a fun summer read—so long as they aren’t afraid of a little (okay maybe a lot of) gore.
*I received a copy of this ARC from Freeform through NetGalley.*
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