Publisher: Freeform Books
Australian Publication Date – 25 September 2018
World Publication Date – 7 August 2018
From one of young adult fiction’s most thrilling authors comes a dark and captivating story of death and madness that is really going to trend online.
When seventeen-year-old Dee Guerrera awakens in a strange room dressed in a princess outfit, she knows she is about to be executed on live TV. Falsely convicted of the murder of her stepsister, Dee has been sentenced to die on Alcatraz 2.0, America’s most popular reality television show. Created by a mysterious television producer known only as The Postman, Alcatraz 2.0 is an island prison where America’s most notorious inmates are hunted down by a series of flamboyant and beloved executioners.
So when Dee comes face to face with one of these killers, she’s supposed to run into his murder room and suffer a terrible death for the entertainment of the masses. However, Dee has other plans, and goes off script in a major way. Her actions will make her the most notorious girl in the world and move her to the top of every executioner’s kill list. Teaming up with a posse of other teenage inmates, Dee needs to quickly learn the rules of this island and figure out a way to avoid being picked off by the psychopaths stalking her. Can Dee and her new friends, the Death Row Breakfast Club, stay alive long enough to prove Dee’s innocence? A ghost from her past is haunting her, and Dee doesn’t have much time before her execution goes viral.
Gretchen McNeil is an experienced young adult fiction writer, whose previous work includes several books aimed at the older teen audience. These include the horror suspense book Ten, the supernatural thriller Possess and teen murder mystery series Don’t Get Mad. #MurderTrending is the seventh book from McNeil, and it follows in a similar vein to her previous books, with teenage protagonists fighting against a dark, murderous force. #MurderTrending is an extremely fast-paced and crazy read that proves to be very entertaining, and is the first part of McNeil’s MurderTrending series. A second book in this series has already been announced and #MurderFunding will be released next August, with an interesting-sounding connection to the first book.
The concept of a group of people being hunted or pitted against each other in an isolated area with the whole world watching is an idea that has been utilised many times before. Movies and shows such as The Condemned, Death Race, Battle Royale, Dead Man Wonderland and The Hunger Games have all used this concept in one way or another. I personally think that the plot of #MurderTrending is very similar to The Running Man, with eccentrically dressed hunters chasing after criminals, although it is easy to build a connection between this book and The Hunger Games due to the focus on teenagers. I think that the author is very aware of these previous movies, as not only does the main character mention The Hunger Games within the book, but one of the other protagonists continually quotes old action movies, including several Arnold Schwarzenegger classics. While this plot device has been used before, McNeil introduces some new elements, while also doubling down on the concept by making his killers and their executions as crazy and over the top as possible. The killers in particular are extremely eccentric and include among others, an explosive orientated hipster, two murderous twins, a fashionista with some deadly accessories and a Prince Charming stand-in who hunts girls dressed as princesses through a trap-filled maze while brandishing an oversized cake knife. As a result, this version of the prison reality television show is particularly amusing, and the over-the-top kills sometimes come across as more humorous than sinister.
While the overarching plot premise of an island prison has been used before, McNeil cleverly enhances this story with some great imitation of the current social media and internet communities. The entire adventure is being livestreamed to the outside world, and is considered to be the most popular form of entertainment in America. As a result, the world is constantly talking about the murders on social media, and the author has included sections of a number of fictional forums at the end of several chapters, where various online personalities talk about the events in a number of ways. This includes praise for the inventive kills, requests, opinions on the various inmates, conspiracy theories and competitions to make the most viral #. These are particularly intriguing and compelling inclusions that also add a bit of realism to the story, as the reader can easily imagine that social media activity like this would totally happen in a dystopian world where executions are streamed as a form of entertainment. In addition to all the discussion and use of social media in the story, the protagonist also talks about the various internet fandoms, fan clubs, gambling, merchandise, shipping, fan theories, fan fiction and message boards that have formed up around Alcatraz 2.0. This is again a fascinating inclusion, with a smack of predictive realism to it, and I utterly loved McNeil’s inventive and modern inclusions around the classic murder prison/reality show concept. It also sounds like this concept will become a major part of the next book in the series, and I am very keen to see how that turns out.
I thought that the overall story for this book was very well done and created an intriguing and entertaining narrative that was really easy to enjoy. In addition to her ingenious use of the overarching plot device and setting, McNeil has also created a compelling and thrilling story that is filled with a number of great twists and intense scenes where the book’s fun characters are put into real peril. While the reveal of the final boss is strongly tied into the character’s past, and isn’t too shocking, how that character gets there is fairly clever, and the twist about the mastermind of the island was pretty surprising. While the ease with which the protagonist was able to defeat some of the infamous murderers who served as secondary antagonists at the end of the book is a bit unbelievable, I did find myself really hooked on this great story, and I powered through the book to find out how it was going to end.
#MurderTrending is marketed towards a young adult audience, and it’s the sort of amusing and crazy book I would have enjoyed when I was younger. Due to the large amount of violence and pretty graphic killings, I would suggest that this book is probably more appropriate for an older teenage audience, but based on today’s standards it’s really not too bad. Out of all the potential readers, the older teenage audience will probably enjoy McNeil’s use of social media and internet cultures the most, as they will be able to relate to the characters and fandom subculture of the people posting on social media within the book. This is one of those young adult books that would really appeal to older readers, and I would really recommend this to anyone who is looking for an enjoyable and over-the-top read.
Gretchen McNeil is once again at top form as she presents a bloody and action-packed young adult adventure. Featuring a fun and unrestrained take on a classic fictional plot device and some very ingenious use of current social media and internet trends, this extremely entertaining story is a fantastic read for both teenagers and older readers alike. #MurderTrending is one of the craziest reads of 2018, and I cannot wait to see what insanity McNeil brings to her next adventure.