While there are other aspects of Nancy Kress’ Flash Point that I probably should have found more disturbing, it was the fact that millions of viewers willingly tuned into a television show called Who Knows People, Baby—You? that bothered me the most. Which is somewhat shallow, given that the book is set in a not-so-distant future in which the economy has utterly collapsed and unemployment is up over 27 percent, in which desperate teenagers are coerced into risking themselves for the entertainment of others, in which the vast majority of Americans are tired, hungry, poor... and on the brink of violent revolution.
Our heroine is 16-year-old Amy Kent, who lives with her younger sister, Kaylie, and their brilliant-but-ailing grandmother. Amy is as dependable and brainy as Kaylie is self-absorbed and beautiful. She’s the one who works to pay the rent, who bribes the police to keep her delinquent sister out of juvie, who longs for someone to play chess with and wishes that the ever-growing ranks of protesters would add a comma to their TIMES BE TOUGH MAN signs ... and now, after applying for the job on a whim, she’s the newest employee of TLN, the edgiest television channel around.
Little does she know that the contract she’s just signed will allow TLN to terrorize (but not hurt, supposedly) her for the amusement of their viewers. She’s told that she can quit at any time—and she’s tempted—but quitting means losing a huge paycheck, regular bonuses, and most importantly, her grandmother’s medical care.
Just like Jeanne Ryan’s Nerve, Flash Point explores the lengths people will go—how much they will endure, how many lines they will cross, how much they’ll be willing to bend their own personal code—to get what they want. Flash Point, though, shoots higher: in contrast to the more simplistic, plot-driven Nerve, Kress focuses more on the personalities involved and on the moral and emotional complexities of the situation.
It’s not entirely successful: the romance feels more extraneous than compelling and Amy’s visions are neat, but feel more like a literary device than a fully integrated facet of her character. Most crucially, though, while the storyline attempts to promote the idea that people are complicated and unpredictable, the character-building doesn’t support that: despite some ZOUNDS, PEOPLE CAN SURPRISE YOU moments, most of the characters come off as quite one-dimensional.
Even with those not-remotely-insignificant flaws, the pacing kept me hooked from beginning to end, and the reality of the world is so similar to our own that it’s easy to imagine real people in Amy’s situation in just a few years. While it’s less violent than The Hunger Games and feels more gritty due to the profanity, it’s likely to go over well with fans of that and other high-action, fast-paced thrillers.
Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.