(2016) James Goss, BBC Books, £7.99, pbk, 338pp, ISBN 978-1-785-94188-7
At Coal Hill School, things have started to get public. Kids have become obsessed with a website that demands you perform risky stunts, or tell it your most painful secrets. And Seraphin, everyone's favourite vlogger, wants you to get involved. All in the name of charity. At first people just get hurt. Then their lives are ruined. Finally, they disappear.
This novel is based on the Doctor Who spin-off, Class, and centres on a group of young adults studying in Coal Hill School who have been bought together by otherworldly incidents. Not only do they have the challenges of growing up to contend with, they are also faced with the perils that a rift in time and space brings them.
The title is very much in keeping with the theme of internet click-bait – sensational titles that lead to links being clicked on in the nature of “you won’t believe what happened next” or “what they look like now will amaze you”. In an age of on line popularity and sensationalism from potentially lethal selfies to Ice Bucket Challenges, this book takes its cues from the popularity of such sites and themes.
The internet-based sensationalism in this case is around dares – and they start out in a relatively small way in Coal Hill School but then takes off in a big way as one of the Coal Hill students decides to do his own version of an Ice Bucket Challenge… with disastrous results. The reactions of those who witness the challenge in question are pretty much bang on, as is the nature of the challenges in question having a very short shelf life in terms of interest.
It does not go unnoticed that the stunts being pulled in the name of the internet are getting more and more dangerous and in some cases, intrusive and devastating. These dares are encouraged by a vlogger by the name of Seraphin, who provides a perspective on the dares in question and encourages viewers to join in by assuring that “there is no such thing as over sharing”.
It’s clear that the author has a strong understanding of social pressures and internet personalities and this comes across in the writing. The plot features April and makes the most of her curious nature and desire to find out what is really going on – this includes interpretations of Seraphin’s vlogs and an interest in finding out about who he really is. There is the question of what Skandis is – so much attention is raised but its nature remains somewhat of a mystery, and added to that, students keep disappearing. From then, it is clear that there is much more going on than vlogging and dares with the question of what Skandis really is requiring an answer.
The first part of this book does a wonderful job of keeping things vague while building up a sense of mystery and the use of continuity in doing so not only works well but is true to the series. Given that there is a strong element of mystery, making use of April as the central character adds to the narrative and in this vein, there is focus on all of the characters and their strengths.
There are wonderful moments between Charlie and Matteusz with exchanges of dialogue that very much fit with their characterisation. The tension between Ram and Tanya is a little overplayed if fitting with the turn of events.
There is a huge twist and while it is not hugely original, it does offer some satisfying reveals and another dimension to the plot entirely. It is an entertaining read and while some characterisation doesn’t ring quite true in parts it doesn’t detract from the story. There is a particularly effective use of suspense and dark humour and the chapter titles are very much in keeping with the theme.
This is a juvenile SF novel but would appeal to anyone – including older readers – who is familiar with the TV show Class, a second series of which has not yet been confirmed.
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