Nerve by Jeanne Ryan is about a reality show that posts videos of teens doing dares, and propels teens whose videos get the most views toward increasingly difficult dares and greater prizes. Vee, short for Venus, has always lived life from behind the scenes, doing all the costumes and makeup for the senior play, for example. She decides to do something out of character for once, and applies to join the new online game called NERVE. She is attracted by the prizes, such as the pair of beautiful but expensive boots or the awesome outfit that Vee couldn’t afford, but had been viewing regularly on her smartphone. When the organizers of the game send her a text with the instructions for the dare, they include a composed image of herself wearing the items she has been wishing for, and she can’t resist. In her dares, NERVE gives her a partner, Ian, a good-looking but troubled boy, who is also drawn in by prizes tailored especially for him. Vee and Ian seem to be very popular, even as they perform increasingly humiliating and dangerous stunts, and are ultimately selected for the grand prize dare. For Vee to win a full scholarship to art school, she must spend three hours in the VIP room of a club with five other players. NERVE makes the rules and controls everything, even locking them in and blocking them from calling out on their phones. Finally, the dares become life-threatening--and all Vee wants is to escape.
In Nerve we have the evil corporate game show digging into people’s personal lives to come up with the exact temptation that will induce them to humiliate themselves in public for the entertainment of sadistic voyeurs. One of the richest supporters of the NERVE game even has enough influence to get to play a bit part in one of Vee’s dares. How has the spate of reality TV shows influenced how we look at each other as fellow humans? I wonder if we are regressing back to traditions of earlier eras to the point where we would be entertained by watching public executions? Vee is locked in a room with strangers where guns have been handed out and the lights are completely turned off. The cell phones are blocked from making calls. She wonders why people are watching this and seeing the danger, yet no one is calling 911 to rescue her and the others. How can they harden themselves to what they are seeing and not help?