Honest and lively YA book reviews
I was very kindly provided this book through a Goodreads Giveaway. Cheers guys - I never win anything !! Look - even my dog was excited to receive this in the mail !!
I think the best way to describe The Flow by Caroline J Martin is bland. This book is oatmeal. It's school uniform. It's a cream carpet. It's just blah.
The Flow is the story of Britain, economically collapsed and resurrected by the ultra-religious Optimus party, a political party hellbent on control of the population through brainwashing and harsh punishment. Lexi and a group of friends begin to see through the cracks of the teachings of the Optimus party when they realise that some of the information on the Flow, their version of the internet, isn't quite right. From there we are led a merry dance as Lexi and her new bestie, Lukas work to unravel the mystery of the lies that have been told to them and their society.
I think the premise is really good, sure. But the execution? I'm not so sure. The author states at the back of the book:
One reason I wrote this book was to encourage young people - especially young girls - to be interested in science and how it can improve our lives.
And boy does it show. There's nothing wrong with this noble quest in pursuit of education for the brats (and I use that term oh-so affectionately) but when the same point is laboured over and over again, and there's a lengthy explanation of Darwin's theory of evolution and the discovery of the structure of DNA right where you'd expect the action to be sitting ..... well, that's just irritating. Having a suggestion of science, an introduction that encourages kids to want to discover more: good. Telling me three or four times the basic ins and outs of Avian flu: not so good.
British society, under the control of the Optimus party, has transformed into some hideous cult-like organisation with enforced worship and compulsory prayer. Citizens must attend the Sacellum twice daily to hear the teachings of the prophet Nathaniel Jeffries as whispered to him by the Creator. If anyone dares to question these teachings they are treated to a very public lashing, and this includes little kids. WTF?!! I had a hard time getting my head around the world building as a whole to be honest - why are the people accepting being treated this way? It's nonsensical. And what's going on in the rest of the world that they have quite happily watched a once democratic and influential country fall at the wayside, prey to a power-hungry fanatically religious, dictatorial leader? Nope - I can't accept this as a reality.
We learn later that the citizens of this new and cray-cray Britain have been brainwashed and had their memories wiped by the use of high frequency sound waves, invisible to the human ear. Uhm .... Really? Caroline Martin, honey - you want kids interested in science? Great! But how about doing some scientific research of your own and come up with a method by which the population could have had their memories tampered with in a way that's actually believable. I've not read such nonsense since I was assured that Florida survived catastrophically rising sea levels in that masterpiece, Wither by Lauren Destephano .....
So, lumped with this absurd society we battle on and meet Lexi. I think the best way to describe Lexi is lacklustre. There's nothing particularly stand out about her. She's not very interesting. We're promised she has an inquiring mind:
"We think you may have the analytical abilities that we will need to work out what is going on"
Ben informs Lexi, after summoning her to his home in an effort to recruit her to his cause of discovering the truth behind the factual inconsistencies he and his faceless sidekicks think they have noticed in the Flow. Now Ben, flattery will get you nowhere. Especially when said flattery in merely fantasy. There's nothing about Lexi that screams unusually intelligent. There's some vague explanation along the lines of "you got a bunch of gold stars at school so you must be smart" and "your Mom is kinda good at mathematics, so you must be too right?" but really, it smells an awful lot like Special Snowflake syndrome. Lexi is special because she is. Despite the fact that not one of the book's mysteries are actually solved by Lexi herself - Lukas uses his brain (as a boy he is able to you see) to work out where the hidden library is and how to get there and he's the one who puts together the information about the vaccine with Lexi just kind of stumbling along behind him, wringing her hands and worrying about bats getting caught in her hair (that doesn't really happen by the way).
There's not a lot that can be said about Lexi's abilities to be honest because she ain't got none. She's alright as a heroine - she doesn't fall in love with Lukas or Ben, while yes, she's kinda self centred, she also manages to have some considerate thoughts towards her mother and her friends and she shows some genuine concern for the fate of her neighbours and the other townspeople - but she just has this personality void. I imagined her to have these dead, vacant eyes; staring out at the world in perpetual mild confusion because she's just so incredibly blah. Her favourite pastimes include listening to music under the duvet with her friend Tish, eating popcorn and seeing a movie every Saturday night. If Ben hadn't approached her and drowned her in flattery I highly doubt she would have made any kind of move to discover the lies of the Flow herself because, while she's very good at following other people around, attempt to stand her up on her own and she promptly falls flat on her face like the cardboard cutout she is. She had zero initiative.
Lukas was marginally better in terms of get-up-and-go but he was still entirely faceless, with no family or friends besides Lexi and barely a single independent thought in his head. I mean, these kids don't even go to school. There's some mention of classmates and they seem to have an endless supply of homework but do they ever appear to actually set foot inside the school gates? Nope. I did enjoy Lukas' discovery in the hidden library though. That was sorta cool. He and Lexi trek down there and find a whole bunch of banned books about science. The Optimus party's extremist religious stance had completely denounced science as witchcraft and evil and against the Creator's wishes (yeah, we're stepping back several centuries in thinking, reasoning and research here. For some reason) and every member of society has been forced to accept that modern medicine and understanding of how the world works is redundant when prayer will, in fact, cure all. Okaaaay. It's a bit wild, but their realisation that perhaps what they have been taught is illogical and backwards is interesting and the description of the hidden library is pretty awesome - one copy of every book ever written ?!! Sounds like heaven !!!
The ending was ..... I don't know. The ending was inexplicable. An old abandoned hospital with everything left exactly as it had been a decade previously? Security cameras in said hospital still function perfectly? Microphones on said security cameras for a start, present and for a second, picking up precisely the right incriminating sentence at precisely the right time? It was all a little too inconvenient. There wasn't really enough actual threat for me to muster more than a "meh" in response to what was happening, especially when as a whole, the book was as bland as cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
One thing I absolutely loved about The Flow was the packaging. The cover art isn't particularly inspiring, but the paper the cover is made from is wonderful! It's soft and thick, as are the pages, and the type is shiny with the paper a proper sharp white. Very impressive.
I have no drive to continue with this series (I believe it's a trilogy) because sure, it wasn't terrible but it made me feel tired. It wasn't hugely boring as the pacing was good and every plot point advanced the story. I just ..... I don't even know. It was 2D. That's probably the most accurate description. There was a lack of depth and it was devoid of any real feeling or urgency.
I hope everyone is having a magical March !! See y'all after !!