Monday, January 6, 2020

Review - Unplugged and Unpopular

Unplugged and Unpopular
by Mat Heagerty
illustrated by Tintin Pantoja & Mike Amante
Date: 2019
Publisher: Oni Press
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 144
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

After Erin Song's parents ban her from using her phone, TV, Internet, and all her screens, she soon discovers mysterious, strange creatures and must foil their plot to take over Earth in this sci-fi graphic novel for tweens.

Erin Song lives in a digital world. Everyone has a phone, a tablet, a computer—more screens than you can count. Even with a world of information at her fingertips, Erin can’t figure out the secret to popularity at her clique-y junior high school. So when uber-popular Wendy asks for help cheating on a test, Erin jumps at the opportunity. This could be her big break! Unfortunately, she gets caught, and her parents ban her from all her devices. Suddenly, Erin Song is the only girl in the world who’s not allowed to look at a screen.

And that’s when Erin notices something funny: small, furry aliens making humans disappear with a weird device Erin’s never seen before. No one else notices them, though—except Erin’s grandmother and two old men who run the local library. They’ve discovered that the aliens are using screens to control the human race, tricking them into thinking they aren’t really there—and that anyone who’s been abducted never existed.

Now it’s up to Erin and her grandmother to save the day! But without technology on their side, do they stand a chance?

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm not the audience for this. Don't get me wrong: I like middle-grade books. But they have to be done well. This is insulting to the reader's intelligence... especially if the reader is over five years old.

Erin is a typical tween. She's fixated on her phone all day, every day. When a popular girl asks her to help her cheat, they get caught. Erin's parents take away her phone privileges. Unplugged from the world, she discovers a plot involving aliens who are trying to take over the world using mind-control technology broadcast through people's devices.

Now, that doesn't sound so bad in theory... but in practice, it's all wrong. The aliens look like purple terriers, speak perfect English, and are kind of stupid (even though they claim to be super smart). Apparently, humans are the strongest beings in the universe (oh, really?) as well as the least intelligent (uh huh...) so the aliens want to create a human-alien hybrid that's both super strong and super smart so they can take over everything. That's literally their only goal: conquest. (But if they think humans are the strongest and dumbest beings in existence, then I'd question their own intelligence.)

The copy I read was really rough, but I still got the gist. Young people are misguided, technology is evil, and old-people are overlooked gems who are going to save the world. In fact, the world was literally saved by one of the old people (and not the main character) in the most laughably convenient way possible (she literally walked into a room and found the villain and the means for defeating it sitting out in the open; I mean, who needs an epic struggle?). To make matters worse, the character actually comments, "Well, this is convenient." Uh... you think?

I think what I find the most disturbing is that the ridiculous plot seems like it would appeal to kids who are around 5 or 6. But they're not the ones who need to hear the message to put their phones down (I hope). What kid wants to read about their grandparents saving the world? Erin does little in that respect; she's more of a foil than a main character. And yet, she takes all the credit in the end.

This just didn't work for me. I'm not sure it would work even if the plot weren't so ridiculous. The message is too heavy-handed and the tone is a bit preachy. I don't think tech-obsessed kids are going to love this... no matter how much their tech-weary parents (and grandparents) might want them to.

Thank you to NetGalley and Oni Press for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 1.86 out of 5 ladybugs

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