Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For! NEED by Joelle Charbonneau



When her buddy Nate shows Kaylee the new social media site, there is only one thing she wants to request--a new kidney for the transplant that will save her brother DJ's life. Since other kids are getting new iPhones and home gym sets, requesting a date for New Year's Eve, and Nate has asked for an A on his physics final, she knows her own request is different. But she is surprised when she logs back on finds that her need has been confirmed and is pending.

But when she wakes in the night to the sound of a shovel striking something hard in her backyard, she finds a symbolic grave with a cardboard "coffin" inside with her brother's name inscribed on it. What does it mean? Kaylee and Nate realize that there is something more sinister going on than a trivial bit of wish-fulfillment fantasy going on with NEED.

Still, the numbers of users continue to grow to a majority of Nottawa's students, with fulfillment numbers increasing more slowly. The first members were asked only to submit a few friends' email addresses, but as the numbers increase, the members are asked to post a phone photo proving their requirement has been met. And what is required begins to become more and more bizarre.

Gina is asked to write this note and slip it under the door at an unfamiliar address:

Thanks for last night. I know we have to wait for the right time to be together. I'll pray it comes soon.

Lynn is asked to photograph the first page of her father's army medical record. Yvonne is asked to fill out a fake order form for seventeen peanut chocolate chip cookies at the bakery where she works. Bryan is asked to pick up a box of cookies hidden in the library and deliver them to Amanda's doorstep. Sameena requests that the neighbors dogs stop barking so that her homework will pass her father's inspection, and Sydney's task is to make sure the dogs never bark again. And Ethan is asked to dig a mock grave and post a photo to NEED.

Then Sameena awakens to see blood and clumps of dog fur staining her neighbor's snowy yard, and Amanda dies of anaphylaxis after eating one of the peanut-containing cookies from the surprise birthday gift. Nate and Kaylee now know that NEED has a sinister purpose, not money, but gaining more and more control over its now dwindling number of members, all of whom are now becoming aware of the results of their deeds. "Be careful what you wish for," goes the old adage, "because you might get it."

Joelle Charbonneau's newest suspense novel, NEED (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), is quite the thriller, written in short chapters, each featuring the different characters drawn into a network whose sinister purpose is unknown. Friends Kaylee and Nate set out to unravel the tangled web of needs and deeds, with an explosive and page-turning final section in which some characters act selflessly, some become murderers, and one does both. What seemed paranoia to Kaylee at first turns out to be a real conspiracy that will keep readers on the edge of their seats to the very end.

Hair-raising tension aside, however, Charbonneau's ultimate prime movers of this plot remain murky, a ruthless government agency using high school students as psychological lab rats and a virtual "mad scientist" in the form of the school guidance counselor who manipulates the teens she knows all too well to document how far their selfish greed will induce them to go. Some readers will buy into the familiar conspiracy premise, and some may find it nebulous and unmotivated in the exposition. Still, Charbonneau knows how to build tension in pithy plotting and spare storytelling style, with a nerdy but courageous heroine, not unlike her popular dystopian series, The Testing Trilogy. (see reviews here).



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