Candlewick Press, Cambridge
Take all the worst aspects of American consumerism and pack into the future lives of middle class teenagers. Then sit back in a comfortable chair and enjoy Anderson’s dystopian vision. In fact, make yourself enjoy it because if the book is taken seriously you will have to cry in fear for all humankind before selling the house, gathering your family, and moving to the backwoods in hopes your brain, pocketbook and DNA will be overlooked by the looming corporate control.
feed is written as science fiction and aimed at the young adult market. It is aimed well. There was a year in middle school when my favorite outfit was a black, head-to-toe, rebel artist look that underlined parents were evaporating substances in life, my certainty the future was ruled by uncaring adult systems, and only friends held the knowledge and power of the future. This book would have substantiated all that and given me new beliefs as well.
The story is told through the eyes of teen-age Titus and begins when he is with his rowdy friends on the moon during spring break. As teens do, the friends entertain themselves by flitting from one activity to another, as teens do. Periodically, they are compelled to buy t-shirts or shoes because of ads relayed to their brain from the implanted “feed.” They discount protesters yelling, “Chip in my head? I’m better off dead,” thinking them silly. Perfect time to meet the alluring, smart-talking outcast (wearing black and grey wool, not plastic), Violet.
Though feed is a typical story of the outsider coming into the group and blossoming young love of two people who can learn from each other, it is grounded by the oddly interesting and deeply disturbing social surroundings of the imagined time. Popular items are “totally brag,” the word school is trademarked, and if the feed isn’t sending personalized ads of items on sale, the teen could well be listening to the popular song, “I’ll Sex You In.” Not such a far cry from today’s popular song titles. There’s just enough to tie the present consumer climate with Anderson’s future that the story feels creepy.
Violet is the clarion call to Titus of what’s really “out there” in the world beyond their protected lives. Forests have all but disappeared, major South American cities are being bombed for economic reasons, and the protesters are killed. Violet and Titus wonder if the lesions growing on everyone’s bodies are really a mark of beauty as they are being told, or caused by a disease. But few are questioning the spread of many diseases. Instead, as today, too many people turn their backs, convinced it won’t happen to them and government, as well as industry, is caring for them. A favorite line is from Violet’s father who does not have a feed and is a lone voice of intellectualism. As he and Titus stand by Violet’s sickbed he says, “Your bon mots cannot fly fleetly when each consonant is a labor.”
feed is sad, unsettling, and not hopeful. It is also well-paced, entertaining, and eerily conceivable as a future.