Published by Putnam Publishing Group on February 5th 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Young Adult
Reading Challenges: 2015 80 Book Challenge
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
To the people suffering on the war-torn mainland, Bliss Island seems like an idyllic place. And it is: except for the fact that the island is a set, and the islanders’ lives are a performance. They’re the stars of a hit TV show, Blissful Days—Characters are adored by mainland viewers, yet in constant danger of being cut if their ratings dip too low. And no one really knows what happens to cut Characters. Nettie Starling knows she’s been given the chance of a lifetime when a producer offers suggestions to help her improve her mediocre ratings—especially when those suggestions involve making a move on the boy she’s been in love with for years. But she'll soon have to decide how far she's willing to go to keep the cameras fixed on her. . . especially when she learns what could happen to her if she doesn't.
I was super excited about this book. So excited, in fact, that it was the first ARC I picked up to read in 2015. This had SO MUCH promise because it’s everything I love — dystopia, reality TV, romance. However, it ended up being a good book, but not a great one. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I only found this book to be okay.
The opening of the novel was where I started to lose my excitement for the story. Rock drops us in the middle of a world that is super confusing, and unnecessarily so. It’s one of those world with a really intense lingo — from crickets to fralling and plus ten and characters and reals and the Drowned Lands — that was hard to follow. I’m all for an imaginary world having a unique vocabulary, but it just didn’t work for me here. It felt unnecessary and frivolous, like a distraction from the lack of real world building going on here.
I almost DNFed the book at the 40% mark because it just wasn’t holding my attention. Nothing was particularly terrible or offensive, but the drama of the challenged given to Nettie was relatively tame and I wanted more drama from the Blissful Days show overall. I was expecting reality show-antics and over-the-top manipulations of situations for the cameras/audience, kind of like in The Selection. Scripted just did not go there — the people on this island were fairly tame. This is logical within the story, I guess, because they were all born on the island and aren’t just trying to get their 15 minutes of fame, but it didn’t make for a completely interesting story.
The reality TV angle did have a it’s moments where it was interesting, but the rest of my attention was taken by my high hopes for the dystopian elements of the story. Again, this was a letdown. We never learn much about why the island was settled or what kind of conflicts are happening in the bigger world. Honestly, I think this book is suffering from not being part of a trilogy. It is definitely a standalone novel, and the ending was quite interesting when Rock had Nettie challenge this world where control is exerted through show ratings and audience appeal. If this had been a dystopian trilogy, I could look forward to getting to see the world outside of Bliss Island in future books. I would want to see the war and the politics that exist in Rock’s vision of the future. As a standalone, the story felt like it never fully developed an interesting plot.
Maybe I’ve just read too many books and it takes a lot to surprise/interest me. I fully accept that as the reason why I just didn’t connect with this story more deeply.
FINAL GRADE: C
This is not a terrible book. Not at all. It’s completely average. Teenage me would have liked it, but 30-year-old me has seen it all before and wanted more. If you are excited about the book and go in with realistic expectations, you may find a hidden gem here. As for me, this is not a book I will probably re-read, and will therefore not purchase the finished copy. Check it out from the library or borrow from a friend, and let me know if you have a different opinion from me!