(2019) David Owen, Atom, £7.99, pbk, 308pp, ISBN 978-0-349-00320-7
This book is a YA (young adult)with a unique fantasy slant, exploring the online versus the real world and what our online existence means for our real life one. The story focuses on two teenagers, Kat and Wesley. Kat feels that she is most alive online and that the online persona she has created is who she really is, despite the fact that it does not reflect her real-life existence. Wesley is a classmate of Katís, struggling with a difficult home life, who participates in cyber-bullying of Kat in order to stay part of his circle of friends. The aim of the group is to force Kat to delete her online accounts, to effectively disappear from the online world, and they achieve this. However, it is swiftly followed by something Wesley did not expect Ė Kat starts to fade from the real world too. How and why this happens isnít really explained, but the idea that in the modern world, if we donít exist online we donít exist at all is a fascinating one and something that I wish the story had explored in more depth.
The rest of the story unfolds as Wesley is forced to confront the fact that his online behaviour has had real world repercussions and fights to bring Kat back before she disappears completely. Kat discovers that she does have value off-line and that she isnít alone in feeling like she does not exist in the real world. She must then fight to stay real in the real world, something which forces her to question what sheís been doing and to make connections with real world people, including Wesley.
All The Lonely People feels like a very timely book for teenagers as we reach a point at which we are starting to question current technology and not only its role in our lives but the impact that it is having in terms of our social relationships and decision making skills. Owen presents the idea that an online presence can be a life in and of itself, and that leaving online life can feel like a death. To those of us who remember life before the internet, this may seem like an over-reaction but the book does tap into something which is a genuine issue for current teens, exploring how it is possible to be highly connected but deeply isolated and lonely at the same time.
The book would be best suited to teens aged 14/15 onwards and is not appropriate for children younger than that due to content and language. It explores some issues of sexual development and sexuality but not in any great depth as these arenít the central topic of the story. There is a romantic subplot between Kat and a female friend. Wesley lives in a difficult domestic situation which may be difficult for some readers but it was very positive to see characters pushed into opposite gender roles and handling them well, such as Wesleyís care-giving relationship with his much younger sister. Overall this is a great book, thoroughly recommended for any teens who are spending a bit too much time looking at their phones.
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