I received this book for free from Author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Vicarious by Paula Stokes
Series: Vicarious #1
Published by Tor Teen on August 16th, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Thriller, Mystery
Winter Kim and her sister, Rose, have always been inseparable. Together, the two of them survived growing up in a Korean orphanage and being trafficked into the United States.
Now they work as digital stunt girls for Rose’s ex-boyfriend, Gideon, engaging in dangerous and enticing activities while recording their neural impulses for his Vicarious Sensory Experiences, or ViSEs. Whether it’s bungee jumping, shark diving, or grinding up against celebrities at the city’s hottest dance clubs, Gideon can make it happen for you, for a price.
When Rose disappears and a ViSE recording of her murder is delivered to Gideon, Winter won’t rest until she finds her sister’s killer. But when the clues she uncovers conflict with the neural recordings her sister made, Winter isn’t sure what to believe. To find out what happened to Rose, she’ll have to untangle what’s real from what only seems real, risking her life in the process.
Let me start by being completely upfront with you guys. I first read this book last year as a beta reader, and I am now writing my review after having read an advance review copy, so I’m familiar with this story and have seen it develop over time. Paula Stokes is a dear friend. But my blog is nothing if not honest, and I am not lying when I say that this book blew me away.
I’m not a typical mystery/thriller reader, and a simple whodunnit is not something that attracts me. But Vicarious is definitely different. I would still describe it as a mystery/thriller, but there’s a strong sci-fi action-packed element and a heartbreaking emotional element to the point where I think this book is suitable for a broad category of young adult readers.
Perhaps my favorite part of it is the sci-fi aspect. I love the ViSE technology. It’s new and different, and in that sense, it’s a sci-fi element that takes this story into our near future – but it definitely doesn’t seem that far away considering the rise of virtual reality tech at the moment. I totally see this happening: people recording exciting adventures and activities and others getting to live through those recordings. I had a pretty big geek moment about that, not gonna lie.
And the characters, particularly Winter, are what take this story to the dark and emotional route. Yes, Winter was a victim of human trafficking and was forced to be a sex worker. But please note that that’s not what this story is about at all (and parents – you don’t need to worry about particularly explicit or R-rated content). This story is about the aftermath – the mental effects and the consequences of living through such traumatic events. Winter definitely suffers from PTSD, but it’s also interesting because you see how different people react to the same situation and the same trauma. Winter is scared of men, crowded places, and intimacy. She learns a variety of martial arts and self-defense techniques, and she doesn’t let anyone get really close to her. Meanwhile, her sister is sexually active with multiple partners because that lets her feel like she’s back in control. Paula’s research shows in the complexity of her characters.
What I felt a little less excited about was the romance between Winter and Jesse. He’s a great, sweet guy. He’s patient and kind, and given the events of the story, he’s arguably exactly what Winter needs. But it’s just the sweet kind of romance that I don’t get very many butterflies for. And at times, it felt a little forced. There was so much going on with Winter’s own character growth and development and the mystery of her sister dying, which she obviously isn’t in the best position to cope with. So to switch between all those things and keep getting pulled back to “budding feelings” and “omg do I like him, well yeah, but I’m scared”, it made this book more typically YA. On this rare instance, I feel like this story would have worked better with less (or no) romance.
But the main question is: do you like getting your mind blown?
If so, you need this book. Honestly it has one of the most thrilling and heart-stopping twists that I’ve read in basically ever. I did not see it coming. And it damn near broke my heart. I sat with my jaw dropped for a good 10 minutes. And on that rare instance that I do venture out and read a mystery thriller, that’s exactly the effect I want the book to have. I had a great time rereading this book and catching the foreshadowing – so yeah, there’s definitely reread value in this – but the first time I didn’t pick up on that at all. That just means the concept and its execution were masterfully done.
I won’t say much more, because this is a book you need to experience for yourself. Any extra information about the plot will pull you this way or that and mess with your expectations. But know that this is a story with great (lite) sci-fi elements, excellent pacing, action-packed scenes, deep and heartfelt character arcs, and a shocking ending. There’s something here for everyone.