With each new year of reality television, we come closer and closer to the world Stephen King imagined in his novella The Running Man. On a more positive note, with each new year of reality television—not to mention the enduring popularity of The Hunger Games—we see more and more books about people playing dangerous games for other peoples’ entertainment. Which, irony aside, are themselves almost always hugely entertaining. (But without the guilt factor!) Jeanne Ryan’s Nerve is the newest in that long line, and while it’s not particularly memorable, it’ll provide you with a few good hours of action-packed fun.
Seventeen-year-old Vee spends her life backstage, figuratively and literally. She’s mostly content to be there, out of the spotlight. Sure, she’s got a crush on the play’s flirtatious leading man—the guy who kisses her best friend every night on stage—but she’s still working up the courage to make her move. Not that she’s had the opportunity: due to a recent incident involving a closed garage and a running car, her parents are being extremely strict and protective. But one night, enough is enough, and Vee is suddenly tired of always being a nobody. So she takes the plunge and enters a preliminary round of Nerve, an online game that offers up fabulous prizes to those willing to record and live-stream themselves performing increasingly difficult—and sometimes terrifying—dares.
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Every time Vee tells herself that she’s done, Nerve ups the stakes. So she ignores her friends—and her own better judgment—and keeps going... It certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s been paired with a super-attractive partner. After all, she can walk away whenever she wants, and Nerve can’t make the contestants do anything truly life-threatening, right? Right?
Due to the reality-television-gone-more-horribly-wrong-than-a-Honey-Boo-Boo storyline, Nerve is bound to be compared to The Hunger Games. But, except for the reality television component and the fast pacing, they’re quite different: Nerve is set in the present day, the game is run by a mysterious private company (rather than by the government), and contestants aren’t coerced or forced into playing... they sign up purely because they want what the game creators are offering, whether that is merchandise, money or fame.
It’s their own greed that draws them in, which, later in the game, adds a self-flagellation element to the players’ many torments. Ryan makes especially great use of the idea that with our ever-increasing use of social media, any possibility of true privacy is on the decline. There are moments in this book creepy enough to cause readers to start giving Facebook the side-eye. Well, the readers who don’t immediately start demanding a real-life version of Nerve. Because I guarantee that some will, cautionary tale be damned.
Reading Nerve is like eating boxed macaroni and cheese—quick, easy and satisfying while you’re enjoying it, but ultimately forgettable. If you’d like something along similar lines that has a bit more staying power, I highly recommend Ursula Poznanski’s Erebos.
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.