Book Review: NEED by Joelle Charbonneau

Social media can be scary. All of us living in this internet age know about the dangers of online anonymity: cyber bullying, online harassment, catfishing, etc. NEED takes that danger to a whole new level. Imagine a website that can provide you with anything you want: a new phone, that latest gadget, an extra week of vacation. All you need to do is perform one little task. Only the mastermind behind the site knows how the seemingly harmless tasks interconnect to lead to the deaths of multiple townspeople. That is the premise of Joelle Charbonneau’s novel NEED. NEEDKaylee Dunham is one of the only kids at Nottawa High School not impressed by the mysterious new social media site called NEED that has begun to sweep through their student population. Perhaps that’s because, unlike most of her peers, Kaylee truly understands the difference between a “need,” defined by the site as “something required because it is essential. Something very important that you cannot live without,” and a “want,” defined as “a desire to possess or do something. A wish.” Kaylee’s brother has a life-threatening medical condition and if he cannot find a match for a kidney transplant soon, he may die.  Kaylee had to grow up fast when she learned of her little brother’s condition and when her father walked out on her family shortly afterwards. Thus, while she can’t resist asking the site for a new kidney for her brother (just in case it actually works), she doesn’t ask it for the simple material trinkets most of her schoolmates do, and she begins to question the required tasks when no one else does.

While the premise of the book is very intriguing, the execution of it could have been better. Every side character was a flat caricature, like the stereotypes created by someone with only vague memories of her own high school days and little awareness that high schoolers are actually complex, full-fledged human beings. From Ethan, the video gamer who cannot differentiate between violence on the screen and violence in real life, to Gina, vindictive mean girl obsessed with being popular, I was offended as a former-high schooler (however long ago that may have been) to read through their shallow characterizations.

Nevertheless, I found myself racing through the book, eager to read how the different tasks fit together and who might be behind it all. The main message of the book seems to be about the dangers of the internet and peer pressure. Kids are so blindsided by the need to fit in and appear cool to their friends that they don’t look too hard at the tasks they are given by the popular new site. The site also gives an anonymous stranger immense power over the youthful population of Nottawa; power enough to arrange the deaths of multiple students and even parents. But to me, the most frightening part was the gaslighting Kaylee is subjected to by her mother, her therapist, and the police. Kaylee is the only one who sees the truth that NEED is behind her town’s recent tragedies, but no one will listen to her because she lied in the past to try to bring attention to her brother’s cause. They tell her that the website and what she says about it isn’t real and try to convince her that she is the dangerous one. Kaylee almost starts to believe them until her best friend is kidnapped and she has to ignore her doubts in order to save him.

In conclusion, if you are interested in mysteries and social experiments, and don’t mind some poorly-written characters, I would recommend this book. But if believable, multifaceted characters are important to you, I would not. NEED was released on November 2015 and is available online and at most major bookstores.

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