Sunday, January 17, 2021

REVIEW: The Chaos of Now (book) by Erin Jade Lange

The Chaos of Now is YA contemporary fiction. It's basically an "issues" book focused on bullying in general and cyberbullying in particular, as well as suicide and survivor guilt.


Like a lot of kids at Haver High, Eli will never forget the day Jordan Bishop walked into the cafeteria, soaked in gasoline, and lit himself on fire. Cyberbullying was widely cited as the cause of Jordan's suicide, and lots of internet restrictions, particularly ones focused on teens, popped up after his death.

A year after Jordan's death, Eli is just focused on his goal of being the best coder he can be, with the hope of maybe striking it rich with some kind of app after he gets out of high school. He had no intention of going to college. He didn't really know Jordan and sees the way his high school focuses on Jordan's death as some kind of tragedy porn.

Then one day he gets a message that leads him to two other kids at his school, Mouse and Seth. They want him to be part of their American Cybersecurity Competition team - to take the spot that Jordan, their friend, would have filled. The catch is that their real world project is going to be kind of illegal: an unregistered website designed to mock all of the internet restrictions that were supposedly inspired by Jordan's death but that Mouse and Seth know he would have hated. However, it isn't long before the website begins to morph into something meaner and more dangerous than Eli originally intended to be involved in.

This is another one of the books in my old conference ARCs backlog. I didn't know anything about it, going in, although it was immediately clear that it was an "issues" book that could potentially become really dark. I was a little worried that it would veer into "school shooting" territory near the end, which I really didn't want to deal with (I already loathe workplace active shooter trainings that involve watching real or simulated active shooter footage). It didn't, but there were hints that it could have.

Anyway, Seth, Mouse, and Eli's site rapidly shifted from justice to revenge. Initially, Eli didn't see a problem with it - the people they were posting embarrassing/compromising video clips of had all been horrible to other people, and embarrassment couldn't kill a person, right? Except that people's lives were being affected, and Eli was repeatedly brought up against the fact that, as horrible as some of these people were to Jordan and others, they were also still people who could be harmed by his actions. And once the whole thing got started, backing out wasn't easy. For one thing, Seth and Mouse had blackmail material on him, and the smaller stuff they knew could easily lead to the bigger stuff that Eli had never told anyone.

In between all of that mess was Eli's worries about flunking Spanish and his crush on Isabel, as well as his annoyance with his father's relationship with Misty (Eli's mom died of cancer when he was very little, and Misty was apparently Eli's dad's first serious girlfriend since then). All the more normal worries balanced out the website stuff a bit, although Eli's reaction to Misty was tough to take sometimes. Misty was a good bit younger than Eli's dad and supposedly previously worked at a strip club (I realized after a while that we'd only ever heard this from Eli, who I decided was not a trustworthy source of information where Misty was concerned), and Eli had a tendency to be rude and dismissive towards her. On the plus side, he was aware that his behavior was unwarranted and occasionally crossed the line, so I was willing to be sympathetic - he also felt a little like Misty was taking his dad away from him.

The ending was somehow both a bit much and not enough. I think part of the issue was that there wasn't enough time to really develop the new facets of Jordan, Mouse, and Seth that were revealed near the end, before all the dramatic stuff started happening. I'm also not sure how well some of the discussion about Jordan's suicide would go over with some readers - I'd hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who has ever seriously considered suicide, although it might be helpful for those dealing with survivor guilt after someone else's suicide (I'm saying this as someone who is not a mental health professional, so take it with a grain of salt).

This was a quick read that I enjoyed more than I expected I would, although I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. In addition to the Jordan, Mouse, and Seth stuff, the way Eli's big secret was resolved felt a little off, too.

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