Awaken, by Katie Kacvinsky, is the story of a future world where horrific tragedies, like those of the real-life Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting, have proliferated so much that the federal government establishes a national Digital School. All children and teens go to school online and meet in person only on rare occasions for small study groups with a live teacher or for team sports. Statistics show that teen crime and violence are way down since the establishment of DS (Digital School), but most people don’t realize what they’ve lost. Everyone is on their computer all the time, totally isolated and people have grown into the habit of avoiding almost all live interpersonal interactions. (Sound familiar?) Relationships are virtual and never go below the surface. Teens can pretend to be whoever they like online, edit their conversations before sending them and PhotoShop their appearance to avoid mistakes and imperfections. The main character is Madeline Freeman, daughter of the man who founded and runs DS, and when we meet her she is 17, still grounded two years after an earlier incident when she leaked all her dad’s computer passwords to a radical group trying to shut down DS. She meets a handsome boy named Justin in a study group and he gradually tries to “awaken” her to real life and real interpersonal contact. Initially, her parents are unaware that he is with the radicals and has dedicated himself to fighting DS. Maddy gradually becomes involved in Justin’s world, defies her dad again and runs away from home.
What if people stopped meeting face to face and spent all their time online as in Awaken? How would life be different? What would we miss? Maddy’s experience dancing together with other teens at a club to live music is mesmerizing! The energy and the heat in the room, the excitement of the music, the feeling of moving your body in time with the beat--a virtual experience just can’t compare with the real thing. To be young and ready to explore the world but then to confine yourself to a chair and a screen just seems wrong, somehow. Even if face-to-face experiences can sometimes lead to risky confrontations and senseless violence, should all people pull in their heads like turtles and live in a virtual world?
Does this book sound like your world? Would you be interested to read it? Let us know in the comments.