Happy Tuesday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, I'm thrilled to share my review for Duplicity by NK Travers, one of this year's leading debut authors.
This is a creepy, sensational cyber thriller at its best, with elements of Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone all rolled into one. Seriously - you are going to be biting your nails as you read this book.
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 17th 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books
Format read: Finished copy via publisher
In private, seventeen-year-old Brandon hacks bank accounts just for the thrill of it. In public, he looks like any other tattooed bad boy with a fast car and devil-may-care attitude. He should know: he’s worked hard to maintain that façade. With inattentive parents who move constantly from city to city, he’s learned not to get tangled up in things like friends and relationships. So he’ll just keep living like a machine, all gears and wires.
Then two things shatter his carefully-built image: Emma, the kind, stubborn girl who insists on looking beneath the surface – and the small matter of a mirror reflection that starts moving by itself. Not only does Brandon’s reflection have a mind of its own, but it seems to be grooming him for something—washing the dye from his hair, yanking out his piercings, swapping his black shirts for … pastels. Then it tells him: it thinks it can live his life better, and it’s preparing to trade places.
And when it pulls Brandon through the looking-glass, not only will he need all his ill-gotten hacking skills to escape, but he’s going to have to face some hard truths about who he’s become. Otherwise he’ll be stuck in a digital hell until he’s old and gray, and no one will even know he's gone.
Pardon the language, but SERIOUSLY. I finished Duplicity an hour ago, and I think my brain needs to reboot itself. Because N.K. Traver has definitely blown my mind.
I knew going into Duplicity that the plot would most definitely be different than anything I've read in the past couple of years. Someone's reflection taking over your body? It's basically a one-way trip to the Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. But throw in tech skills, a hacker's personal hell and a girl who's definitely worth protecting, and you have both an exciting speculative thriller, and Duplicity in a nutshell.
Traver introduces us to Brandon, a misunderstood teenaged hacker with a dysfunctional family. He hacks not just because he's good at it, but because it's also a way to connect to a world that largely misunderstands him. But as his skills develop, so does his noterity. Brandon has now caught the attention of an organization who doesn't like his extracurriculars, and have a unique way of solving that problem...
From the very first page, Traver does a great job of balancing a fine line between Brandon's intellectual and emotional struggles as a teenaged hacker, while also asking readers to question the greater societal and ethical challenges presented by Brandon's work, and those who are trying to stop him.
As we delve into Brandon's backstory, Traver is careful to show how Brandon's work - as high tech as it may be - is a classic teenage response to years of dealing from negligent parents. His parents have made it clear through the years that they don't want to understand him and don't want to accept his personality, which leads him to rebel and pull away from those who do attempt to get close to him, like Emma.
But even as readers may question while still emphathizing with Brandon's defiance, we can't also help but feel a sense of horror when Brandon's reflection turns out to be the first phase of a secret program bent on replacing juvenile tech deliquents with duplictes of themselves.
As Brandon begins to unravel the history of the program and the pace of the book amps up considerably, Traver smartly asks readers to question both the logistics and ethics behind such a proggram, such as whether it's really better for society to remove all juvenile deliquents for the sake of society. Is there no way to hope that they might change themselves? And what is the cost of eliminating a natural personality in favor of a pre-programmed one?
Thanks to the logistics of having a double, Brandon's also able to view both himself and the relationship he has with others through the eyes of those around him, which forces some serious reevaluating on who he is and what he holds true. Traver greatly works with the addage that you can't really understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes, and it's especially true in this case.
Outside of the ethics question, Traver does a nice job of really playing up the technological and thriller angles of the story. Because of the nature of the program, there's a constant feeling of characters being watched, and I will bet you that you won't be able to read this without having those same feelings. Moreover, she also asks you to consider just how a program like this would work in the real world, and whether we're on the road to having something like this happen in real life.
Without giving spoilers away, Traver ends the book with a Black Mirror-esque resolution, of things feeling resolved on the surface... but not really. I'll be interested in seeing if/when she comes back with a sequel, because I need answers, darn it!
But other than that, I can say Duplicity is the type of book that makes reading YA exciting.
N.K. Traver executes new ideas and an innovative plot that had me on the edge of my seat while reading. Brandon's personal journey from rebellious teen to someone who learns what it means to care for those beyond himself, while fighting against an entity with good intentions and bad results, will appeal to readers of ALL ages.
Highly recommend for all readers, but especially for those who are looking for something to appeal to reluctant older readers. Traver does a fine job of connecting both the angst of being a misunderstood teenager and the technology now driving their day-to-day lives, juxtaposing both into a story that will definitely inspire them to keep reading.
About the author:
As a freshman at the University of Colorado, N.K. TRAVER decided to pursue Information Technology because classmates said "no one could make a living" with an English degree. It wasn't too many years later Traver realized it didn't matter what the job paid—nothing would ever be as fulfilling as writing. Programmer by day, writer by night, it was only a matter of time before the two overlapped.