“Beat the game. Save the World.” An eco-disaster cyberthriller races through a checklist of teen-lit clichés at a nonetheless entertaining clip.
Pandora Walker’s career-obsessed mother may have forgotten her 17th birthday, but not her long-absent father. Unfortunately, his unexpected email kicks off a countdown to global apocalypse, via an Internet virus that shuts down the power grid and electronic communications. With the authorities hot on her trail and civil society collapsing, Pandora teams up with two bitterly antagonistic but conveniently skilled (and gorgeous!) stepbrothers to track down the clues planted in an online game before time runs out. From tag line to climax, this story is an unapologetic flood of pop-culture allusions and predictable young-adult-novel tropes. The “real-life” narrative mirrors the structure of the virtual game: a road trip with puzzles, monsters, obstacles, miniature lessons and escalating threats leveling up to the final boss fight. This conceit, despite the relentless pace and genuine dangers, results in an oddly detached effect. Similarly, the characters are strangely empty archetypes: the neglectful parents, the sassy best friend, the sinister government agent, the environmental activist–turned-terrorist, the charming, careless jock and the tormented genius bad boy. Pandora herself, although bestowed with a random-feeling array of personality quirks, serves as little more than a place holder for the player—er, reader.
Still, the zippy prose and day-after-tomorrow currency make for a quick and enjoyable (if forgettable) read. (Science fiction/thriller. 12 & up)