Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date – 2 October 2018
From one of the most intriguing authors of modern young adult fiction comes this powerful story about bullying in the modern cyber world and the potential impacts our choices can have on those around us.
One year ago, a student at Haver High, Jordan Bishop, walked into the school cafeteria and committed suicide by setting himself on fire, a reaction to the relentless online bullying he was experiencing. Since that event, life at Haver High has not been the same. Not only do the scars of Jordan’s actions remain but radical legislation brought in to combat cyberbullying ensure that students’ online lives are openly monitored by federal cybersnoops.
Eli Bennett is a young hacker who is desperate to graduate and leave town in order escape his father and his father’s new girlfriend, Misty. Eli is happy enough at school with his only friend, Zach, although he wouldn’t mind getting to know the beautiful Isabel. But when he is approached by fellow hackers Seth and Mouse, he finds himself drawn into an entirely new challenge. Seth and Mouse were Jordan’s friends, but have had to keep their relationship with him a secret to avoid backlash from the other students. Desperate to get some sort of justice for their fallen comrade, they are seeking a way to get back at those students who drove Jordan to kill himself. Their idea is to create a website where Jordan’s bullies can be publicly shamed, and they need Eli to make it untraceable to the authorities. Despite being haunted by a previous hacking mistake, Eli agrees to help, interested in the potential of this sort of website.
Calling the website ‘Friends of Bishop’, the site provides the students of Haver High with an anonymous forum to post videos about bad behaviour in the school. With the help of a few bombshell videos, the site becomes a hit, and Eli and his friends believe they are making some real changes. With the cybersnoops desperately try to shut down the site, the hidden Friends of Bishop revel in their notoriety and the praise of many of their classmates. But when their quest for justice takes a nasty turn, Eli finds himself facing the real-world consequences of his actions and must try and work out what the right thing to do is.
The Chaos of Now is the fourth book from the talented and at times controversial young adult author, Erin Lange. Lange is probably best known for her 2012 debut novel, Butter, which focused on a bullied obese boy’s plan to eat himself to death on a live internet broadcast. Her next two books, Dead Ends and Rebel, Bully, Geek, Pariah also looked at the lives of socially isolated high school students, as well as the consequences of bullying behaviour. The Chaos of Now takes a deeper focus on extreme cyberbullying and the potential impacts it can have. I absolutely enjoyed The Chaos of Now and powered through it in less than a day as I became absorbed in its fantastic narrative, its emotional and moral heart and its very intriguing elements and warnings.
This book contains a poignant and well-thought-out story that takes its protagonist on a captivating adventure as he is faced with a series of moral dilemmas and explores the resultant consequences of his decisions on himself and those around him. There are some incredible emotional scenes as the main characters examine their anger, grief, guilt and internal moral compasses when they look back at what they did or what they failed to do. There is also a heartrending plot twist towards the end of the book which paints the entire narrative in a completely new light while also upping the stakes for the protagonist and his friends.
At the centre of this incredible book lies a powerful message about the modern epidemic of cyberbullying and the dangers of our modern computer based world. Within the context of the story, the protagonist is drawn into a quest for justice after a young man who is bullied online commits suicide. The architects of this revenge are the victim’s friends, who feel guilty for not standing up for their friend and not coming forward after his death. As part of their quest, they create an anonymous website where embarrassing and incriminating videos can be posted about the people who drove Jordan to commit suicide, as well as videos about any other bullies or people the protagonists believe need to be taken down a peg. Lange does an incredible job exploring all the aspect of this cyberbullying, from an examination of the events that led up to Jacob’s suicide to the impacts of the posted videos on the people they are shaming. Lange does not try to shape this as a black and white issue; instead, everything that occurs has the potential for negative consequences. For example, throughout the course of the book, the protagonists post several videos, each of which appears to have different levels of embarrassing or incriminating footage. While the potential impacts of some of these videos appear to be minor, some are later revealed to have major consequences for the people involved. At the same time, the more explicit videos have huge, life-altering consequences for the people involved. Through the course of her narrative, Lange shows the full effect of these videos, whether they are extreme or seemingly innocuous, and shows how the people’s lives are affected and how other people treat them because of what is revealed. Often these outcomes are quite devastating, and the protagonists, having become cyberbullies themselves, are left examining whether their victims actually deserved to have their lives ruined in this way, and if their actions can truly be considered justice. The final message of this book, that cyberbullying or any form of negative online actions can have severe and often unforeseen consequences, is quite powerful, and I thought that Lange did an incredible job highlighting this throughout her novel.
Another intriguing part of this book is the extreme way the government attempts to deal with the problem of cyberbullying. In this book, following the extreme suicide of Jordan, the government introduces harsh and controlling rules about internet privacy for students and gives government officers known as cybersnoops the ability to monitor everything young people do on the internet. This is a thought-provoking reaction, and one that could potentially be used in the real world to address the problem of cyberbullying. Readers will be interested to see Lange’s thoughts on such a program being introduced and how the youth impacted by it may react. The resultant story comes across as a cautionary tale. While more needs to be done to combat the issues of cyberbullying, Lange’s stories suggests that certain approaches could be just as problematic, as many of the protagonist’s actions are as a result of the restrictions imposed upon them.
I really enjoyed the coding aspects of this book, and it was fascinating to see the various computer and coding terms included throughout the story. Lange’s ensures that these technical aspects are explained to the reader in a clear and concise manner so that even technical luddites like this reviewer are able to have a good understanding of what is going on in the story. Readers of The Chaos of Now should also take note of the various ways in which the internet or someone’s personal electronic devices can be used against them, and is definitely an informative inclusion.
Lange’s focus on her protagonist’s personal relationships is another great part of this book, and provides an invaluable social heart to this novel. At the start of the book, Eli only has one friend, Zach, a fellow coder who serves as Eli’s social and hacking conscience. When Eli makes friends with Seth and Mouse, he is happy to have new friends and works with them on their website. But, as the book progresses, Eli’s relationship with Zach suffers as he constantly hides his dodgy actions with the Friends of Bishop website. It is interesting to see how Eli is forced to assume the more moral and cautious role with Seth and Mouse, who are much more obsessed with revenge than Eli is. Having assumed this role, Eli feels a lot more guilt for the group’s actions, as he knows he should do more to curtail their more reckless actions. This is further compounded when Eli gets angry and momentarily abandons his moral position, and the resultant actions cause significant harm. The later part of the relationship with Seth and Mouse is very intense and contains one hell of a climactic scene. The Chaos of Now also contains the heart-warming story of the growing relationship between Eli and his father’s girlfriend, Misty, who becomes one of the most likable characters in the entire book. I also enjoyed the relationship between Eli and the bully Malcolm who Eli has several negative encounters with at the start of the book. While Eli at first wants to destroy him like the other bullies at Haver High, his discovery of Malcolm’s deeper problems and the future awaiting him makes Eli rethink his position. This focus on the protagonist’s relationships is an extraordinary part of the book, which weaves into the story very well and plays a big part in the protagonist’s decisions and actions.
The Chaos of Now is a great piece of young adult fiction that provides an amazing insight into one of the key issues affecting the youth of today. With some mature themes, this book is definitely intended for the slightly older teen audience and is probably most appropriate for high school students who are a similar age to the characters of this book. As this book provides an intriguing and powerful insight into the modern day issue of cyberbullying and presents a look at the extreme consequences that could result from these actions, I would strongly recommend it to these students, as they would be most interested in the message and story that it contains. While not intended for older readers, the content of this book is instantly relatable for anyone who has ever been to high school and is aware of the current issues surrounding cyberbullying and problems with the internet.
Lange has created a terrific book which I felt covered some of the issues around cyberbullying perfectly. Featuring a heartfelt and at times crushing story that tries to understand the different sides of this complex problem, this is another superb and memorable release from an incredible young adult fiction author.