Need – Joelle Charbonneau

20550148Last week, NetGalley sent out an email advertising this book. Having read The Testing Trilogy last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was on NetGalley within seconds, requesting this new urban thriller from Joelle Charbonneau, and boy, am I glad I did.
Part high school romance, part divorced-child story, part creepy, insistent investigation of the appeal of social media and the lure of anonymity, Need started out interesting and only ratcheted up the tension from there.
Need – Joelle Charbonneau

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

Having read The Testing trilogy last year, when I saw Joelle Charbonneau’s name, I was expecting something along the same lines. This isn’t, though. This is all modern-day, social media investigation, without a hint of the post-apocalyptic dystopia which frames her earlier trilogy of YA books. This isn’t a complaint, though. The change of pace is refreshing, and shows the breadth of Charbonneau’s skill – this isn’t a one-trick pony of an author, but rather someone who understands teenagers, and understands the digital age, too.

Need introduces us to Kaylee, social outcast, with a host of problems, and not many friends – not least of her problems being the fact that her little brother desperately needs a kidney transplant. So when her best friend invites her to a new social media site – Need – which promises to give you what you need – Kaylee wastes no time in asking for what she wants.

What follows on from this is an at-times ridiculous exposition of the difference between a need and a want, the consequences of not thinking through one’s actions, and a high-tension, occasionally nail-biting thriller which races through a week during the Christmas holidays in Nottawa as the ulterior motive of the site becomes clear.

The book started off in first-person narrative, which was Kaylee’s chapter, but it quickly switches to other characters (but this time in third-person). It covers a range of students from Nottawa high school, and their experiences with the site. I don’t want to say too much about what happens in the plot, because discovering each new twist was a new thrill each time, but I will say that at times, there were too many characters to keep them all straight in my head. It probably didn’t help, though, that some of the chapters were mislabelled. The jump between first and third person narratives also jarred for me each time it switched back to Kaylee, but I can understand the reasoning behind the change – it frames Kaylee as the main character much more strongly.

Although I did have some little niggly issues with the pacing of the book at times – does this really all happen in only a few days? – and with the general reveal at the end, it was still a really enjoyable, often tense and thought-provoking read. It had all of the things I felt feed was missing – it was a commentary on the ease and addictiveness of the internet, and how quickly things can disintegrate, but it was missing the preachy overtones which grated on me so much when reading Feed. Much like the change of pace from Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy to Panic, this was an extra string for Charbonneau to add to her bow – a slick, accomplished YA thriller.

Four Stars
****

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