‘Sup readers? I know you’re probably looking for On The Shelf, but due to real life events, it’s been pushed back due to sensitive material. With that in mind, welcome back to another Backlist Books column, the Fanfest experience that lets you and I take a gander at some potential quality literature that’s not hot off the presses. The only guideline being that it has to be at least six months old to be featured in this column.
This week, we’ll be looking at The Takedown by Corrie Wang, a YA novel that was published in 2017. By now, technology is a ubiquitous feature of our lives that infiltrates every aspect of it— from our leisure time to our professional lives and everything in between. Set in the distant future, Wang’s novel takes society’s (arguably unhealthy) dependence on tech one step further, by immersing her characters in a world that would literally shut down without access to the internet.
Popular services Google, YouTube Facebook, and Twitter, take on the form of Goog, YurTube, Connectbook, and Quip in Wang’s novel. There’s an equivalent for LinkedIn, Uber, etc. All of these social networks are important because they are the platforms through which main character— and Queen Bee— Kyla Cheng lives her life. Every move she makes is recorded by her or someone else, automatically uploaded to each of her profiles— she’s just like everyone else: the perfect target for cyberbullying.
Kyla is the captain of the debate team, a voracious volunteer, and an enthusiastic scholar with political aspirations. She’s also one of the most popular girls at her exclusive private school in New York. Everything’s pretty much perfect— until a video of her doing the bone dance with her cute, young English teacher is plastered all over the internet, monetized on YurTube. Kyla’s volunteer organizations disown her, her not-boyfriend (it’s complicated) ends things, and the entire school— the entire world— now has a front row seat to her humiliation. But here’s the kicker: Kyla didn’t do it. I mean, yeah, she’s in the video, it’s definitely, undeniably her— but it’s not her. She swears (it’s okay if you don’t believe her, neither do her best friends). But she has proof! Someone who hates her (creatively dubbed her “hater”) is messaging her, enjoying every second of Kyla’s downfall.
Oh boy. I went back and forth with how I felt about The Takedown so many times while I read it. The slang Kyla and her friends use, spelling out their words while speaking, and their coordinated outfit schemes screech not of a distant future, but of an early ’00s past. But at the same time, trends are cyclical, and the obnoxiousness is so authentically teenaged that in the end, I wound up appreciating them (however marginally).
I enjoyed the world Wang crafted, the way she played with and morphed the technology we all use every day. However, some of the twists and turns it took were a little out-there and perhaps more suited to be chronicled in a Netflix series (Netflix, I think, would smooth over some of those rough edges). I really enjoyed myself during the end. It was engaging, fast-paced, and the perfect blend of dramatic and fun. I mean, it got real. First Kyla’s hater monetizes her sex tape, then she submits all of her unfinished college applications, and a trail of increasingly craptastic behaviour follows. So I’m sitting there thinking: “Oh yeah. Kyla is learning her lesson, and her hater is going to get arrested for this insanity.” And then—
And then the ending happened.
Look. Admittedly, I can be a stickler about what’s “fair.” It’s why I like comic books, because eventually— eventually— the bad guys get what’s coming to them, even if it’s only temporary justice. But The Takedown spins a web of lies, deceit, and bullying around Kyla, forcing her to confront her own behaviour while also realizing that bullying is unacceptable in any and every circumstance. And then when the big reveals (there are several) are made and Kyla discovers who her hater is… Kyla takes the blame. Her hater, someone who literally changed the very course of life and robbed her of opportunities, gets off with, not jail-time or mandatory therapy or blame, but pity instead.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
I hated the way Wang chose to make Kyla’s bully a justifiable victim while simultaneously undoing all the work she put in to make Kyla understand that all actions have consequences. The decision to paint the hater as justified and Kyla as a monster was utterly horrifying and cringe-inducing on Wang’s part, especially because of the reasons behind the hater choosing to psychologically torture Kyla and ruin her life. Hint: those things happen all the time, everyday, to everyone, and NOTHING excuses the hater’s subsequent behaviour. I was behind this book right up until the very end, and I don’t think I can recommend it to teenagers who are being bullied because the message it sends out, loud-and-clear, all-caps, is this:
IF YOU FEEL YOU HAVE BEEN BULLIED, IT’S OKAY TO BE A MEANER BULLY IN RETURN.
Does It Hold Up Now:
No. Nope. Not okay. Never. I was bullied all throughout elementary school and the beginning of high school (being That Girl With The Walker will do that to you), so I get wanting karma to swoop in on people who have wronged you. However, it is NEVER okay to turn around and lash out on those people yourself. Don’t get down in the dirt and play on their level. Rise up and be better instead. If you want to check out a copy of The Takedown (because parts of it were good), check it out here.