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Katey "Kid" Dade is a 15 year old girl in The Game. No, not the rapper or Triple H, Kid lives in a not too distant future where the education system has been sold to sponsors who provide schooling in return for market research. "Players" attend classes and take art, music, and gym electives, while fighting for social rankings to join cliques that will get them branded by sponsors and increase their personal social media scores.
Wait, didn't I already review Tyra Banks' YA dystopian novel?
Fortunately, The Unidentifed is actually pretty good, especially at crafting a main character who feels confused and out of place and deals with genuine teenage issues. She's drifting apart from one best friend, dealing with possible romantic feelings for the other, and trying to decide if she even wants a label society's trying to pin on her. (Why hello there high school. I was hoping we would never meet again.) I actually found the book most successful when dealing with the relationship between Kid and Ari and the cliques. Where it fell down was trying to introduce the futuristic elements.
The book takes place in an unspecified year, but judging by the fact that the kids are generation AAA, (after X, Y, and Z) and most generation Z's are just entering high school, the book takes place when mychildren would be in high school. So we'll say 15-20 years into the future. Of course, technology's advancement is hard to predict, but a good amount of the technology either already exists or is probable at this time. We're not looking at holograms, flying cars, or bio domes. The book is almost entirely about texting and using Facebook on your notebook. I'm doing that right now. No touch screens or retina scanners, the kids play Halo and build Battlebots and listen to the "classical" Wu-Tang Clan.
I'm not trying to suggest that a novel can only be futuristic if it's full of jet packs and run by Tony Stark's Jarvis, but if society undergoes such radical changes in 15 years that teenagers are basically illegal, the rest of the world should also feel equally advanced. There are some touches, video games played by blinking, but it almost makes it more jarring when kids are still skateboarding.
Likewise, the actual Unidentified conspiracy is pretty uninspired. The UnID are an underground group of rebels that want to show the Game designers that they don't own everyone. That's a noble idea, except they do very little to subvert the mainstream until 80% through the book when they start a riot. After that it comes out that and the book rushes headlong to a conclusion that leaves a lot unsaid.
Kid, as a main character, gets no resolution. Her love triangle peters out: she's been lusting after Jeremy Swift, a branded hacker, but after a kiss, he's kind of distant and she's not sure if he likes her or just her new found status. They never talk about it and they just kind of stop seeing each other. Luckily she ends the book with a tender kiss from BFF Mikey, so I guess she'll have a boyfriend if she doesn't get arrested. As mentioned, the UnID isn't what it seems: The leader of the Unidentified attacks Mikey for no reason. Except the reason is he is actually a grown ass man posing as a high school student to get the disenfranchised kids to help him fake a computer virus, causing his security system to rise to the top of the hot charts. He beats Mikey half to death and almost gets him expelled, forcing Kid to tell the current security company about the UnID virus. So Katy, her new found rebel friends, and Mikey throw a huge rave in the school parking lot that will probably get them all expelled and arrested. At the party, the leader shows up and is hauled off by the police, but there's no confrontation between him and Kid. She, and we, get no resolution, no "spit in the eye" moment.The book ends with a chapter called "Game Over" and this:
We are the Unidentified. Or maybe we're not. Maybe you'll never know who we are.
In one night, unauthorized parking-lot parties took place outside 243 Game sites nationwide. The Unidentified didn't do that, the people who participated did that. Some of the gatherings were busted up by law enforcement citing the underage gathering prohibition, but other kept going until the sky lightened and the parking lot lamps blinked out.
It doesn't matter if everyone is watching. Or if no one is. We are going to keep making noise. With the hope of one day beating the Game."
Nothing about Katey, her future, her music or friends or if her mom learned to trust her. No word on punishment or if they made an immediate difference. For the main character, it's a fade to black and it left me really disappointed.
In summary, The Unidentified has a pretty interesting premise, but sloppy world-building and an ending that falls apart. It succeeds in speaking to teens who feel different and unheard, but it doesn't have a lot new to say to them.