Adolescence is Hell. You careen through life, chained to a hormone-powered motorbike with only occasionally functional steering and do your best to not crash. It never works, you crash, LOTS, but in doing so you shape the person you’ll be for a good chunk of the rest of your life. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you find a bunch of other people whose hormone-bikes are all careening in the same direction. Those friends you’ll keep for life. More often you find yourself racing to fit in and catch up with others only to fail or, worse, not like it when you succeed.
Adolescence is Hell. But it’s a Hell we all go through and it’s easier when we’re together.
Or it should be…
Kim Curran’s latest, Glaze, combines the struggle to fit in that every teenager has with the rise of social media to create a thriller that manages to hit the same sort of ground as Doctor’s Homeland and Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, with a perspective and approach all its own
A huge amount of that is wrapped up in the setting. The book is set in London, but even outside the basic geography, Curran’s characters and approach feel British. In a genre traditionally (If not fairly) viewed as predominantly American that’s already a massive plus and here it’s just the beginning. The struggle for social acceptance, the complex geography of alliance and emotion that Petri navigates feels very familiar. That in turn makes the unusual elements, and the violence, all the more shocking. This is Grange Hill by way of Max Headroom, and it’s a combination that’s as distinct as it is gripping.
The second major asset the book has going for it is Petri. Curran’s grasp of character and the nuances of daily communication is one of the best things about her books but here it’s really given center stage. The entire opening incident is a masterful piece of characterization where something Petri says is misinterpreted in a completely understandable but devastating way. She’s not the leader of the revolution, she aggressively doesn’t want to be, but the very uniformity she craves and doesn’t have ultimately drives her to the forefront of an individualistic revolution. Plus she’s got a magnificent line in pragmatic sarcasm which, again, reinforces just how disturbing the situation is.
Petri’s relationship with her mother, ZiZi is another major plus. ZiZi is brilliant, distracted and an ambiguous figure for much of the book, adversary and ally all at once. Her role takes a major left turn in the final act that’s key to both her development and that of her daughter and Curran’s tremendous narrative bravery really makes these scenes fly. There are no easy answers when you’re a teenager, and no easy answers here.
Finally, the Glaze network itself is a gloriously nasty idea. A glass spider with a million strands in its digital web, the network is presented as a high-tech Facebook, just without the desperately unpleasant GUI and frequent ‘This Guy Did A Thing! You’ll Be Mildly Disturbed By What Happened Next!’ clickbait. It’s only available past a certain age, and Curran cleverly uses that to focus Petri’s adolescent longing to a sharpened point. The Glaze network is acceptance, the ticket to the prom, the cute kid in class smiling at you, the TV show everyone’s watching all at once. It’s Twitter without a character limit, GoodReads with coding less than 2 decades old. It’s digital Nirvana and Petri getting locked out of it is both the best, and worst thing to happen to her.
Curran’s depth of thought, and exploration of just what the Glaze network would feel like is absolutely inspired. When Petri finally gets on it, the novel slowly shifts as everything she says triggers searches on the network. What should be the cool kids table slowly becomes a fire hose of information that can’t be turned off and the free association results that flood Petri’s eyes and mind are as darkly funny as they are horrifying.
Likewise the true nature of the network, when revealed, is chilling. The constant bombardment of social media weaponized for the good of the people at the top, and the expense of the people at the bottom. It’s three steps, at most, away from the way some groups ride hashtags and that constant, grounded approach really helps the more fantastic elements shine. There are some fantastic ideas here, and at depth too. The main ones driving the plot are very well explored but there are hints of other elements of the network that make it feel like a well rounded idea instead of a mcguffin.
Finally, the book’s closing act is one of the smartest, and bravest I’ve read in a long time. There’s elements of the triumphant victory and catharsis that every teenager craves but it’s cut with moments of choice and real emotional maturity. The world gets to decide how the world wants to be. Petri may very well not like that but she’ll have to deal with it, just like the rest of us adults.
Adolescence is Hell and the adolescence explored in Glaze is a special kind of Hell where social acceptance is just, but always, an App away. It’s an intensely clever, uniquely sweet and completely involving story and one that feels uniquely timely in a way that won’t date. After all, you’re reading this on a blog and, hopefully, will buy the book, digitally, then post on Facebook, tweet about it, talk about it on GoodReads…The future may not be now, but it is soon.
See you on the network.