Author: J.R. Stewart
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Romance
I don’t think I have the discipline and capability to give a summary of this book’s plot without giving too much away. So instead, I’ll be quoting the book’s blurb.
When the real world is emptied of all that you love, how can you keep yourself from dependence on the virtual?
Animal activist and punk rock star Larissa Kenders lives in a dystopian world where the real and the virtual intermingle. After the disappearance of her soulmate, Andrew, Kenders finds solace by escaping to Nirvana, a virtual world controlled by Hexagon. In Nirvana, anyone’s deepest desires may be realized – even visits with Andrew.
Although Kenders knows that this version of Andrew is virtual, when he asks for her assistance revealing Hexagon’s dark secret, she cannot help but comply. Soon after, Kenders and her closest allies find themselves in a battle with Hexagon, the very institution they have been taught to trust. After uncovering much more than she expected, Kenders’ biggest challenge is determining what is real – and what is virtual.
Nirvana is a fast-paced, page-turning young adult novel combining elements of science fiction, mystery, and romance. Part of a trilogy, this book introduces readers to a young woman who refuses to give up on the man she loves, even if it means taking on an entire government to do so.
Nirvana is J.R. Stewart’s incredibly brilliant debut novel that may just have everything. Truthfully, I was slightly hesitant to read this book because the premise was extremely promising and I could not prevent myself from setting high expectations. Thank God the book did not disappoint me at all! It touches a lot of popular themes – betrayal, adventure, romance, power-hungry government, rebellion, fantasy, post-apocalyptic world and many others. There is a lot going on within its pages, and here’s the thing: it works. The themes are cleverly woven into plot that instead of overpowering each other or causing confusion, led to the formation of a literary nirvana. (See what I did there? I digress.)
Impressive world-building: Before reading this, I was curious as to how the author intended to pull of the “intermingling of the virtual and the real.” I wouldn’t consider myself tech-savvy, but I can admit that today’s technological advances comprise a huge chunk of my life. And this statement is obviously not applicable to just me. One way or another, people are increasingly becoming dependent on technology. We are, after all, living in a digital age now.
In this story, for reasons I will not disclose in this review, the Earth we once knew is gone and is replaced by a barren wasteland with limited resources, food production shortages, and a crumbling economy. To keep the populace appeased and placated, Hexagon, the powerful corporation responsible for monopolizing pretty much everything, offers a virtual reality system more commonly known as Nirvana. Through Nirvana, the struggling classes are given the opportunity (
that usually has a span of 15 minutes per session) to escape the harsh conditions of real life in favor of an encoded, predetermined, pleasant environment. Inevitably, people develop an alarming dependence on Nirvana and are more than willing to shell out whatever they earn just to seek refuge in the comforts of virtual reality.
Interestingly enough, according to the author’s biography, Stewart has a firsthand experience in dealing with advanced “VR” technologies and after working on these projects for a decade, he began to worry about the implications of this work and the corresponding psychological effects it may have. And I guess from this information, we can infer that he channeled these possible psychological effects and ideologies into his writing. Personally, I think what makes the plot’s premise intriguing is the possibility of it becoming true. Maybe it already is. Maybe this story in this book is more than fiction, maybe it’s a warning – a wake-up call to what could be. And I think it’s that essence of realism and that underlying truth of how we currently are that entices readers to the story.
Realistic, strong characters with equally strong personalities: I am a huge, huge sucker for well-developed characters. And Stewart certainly delivered. Nirvana is teeming with three-dimensional, interesting characters – each with a reason to keep fighting for themselves and for their beliefs. Stewart introduces his characters in their own respective lights, allowing us to understand them at a deeper, more personal level. Prime examples of this are Tremaine, Corporal, Paloma, and Serge. As much as I’d like to talk about each of them, I will only be discussing the main characters – Kenders and Andrew, and my favorite character, Serge (so as to keep this review from becoming ridiculously long).
“Her statement directly to a journalist on that night was: ‘Sixy Sextet supports anyone who inflicts economic sabotage on the people who profit from animal suffering.’ She elaborated on this idea to thousands of screaming fans.” Paloma taps her red heels against the chair. “She thinks too much.”
And I won’t ever stop trying to change the world, to make it better, if only for a few. If I give up hope, then what is living for?
“Who are you? What are you? I mean, I was plugged in just like I do to people. I know where I am. Nirvana. It’s not real, it’s programmed, but I need you to be real. To feel you’re alive somewhere. That in some way, I can reach you.”
“All those years ago, in the dusky light of our treehouse, there was a blurred line for me between building our safe little world and playing house with you.”
The rest: Great use of imagery, no cookie-cutter villains, perfect pacing, lots of science (yes, this is a good thing), thrilling adventure, minimal information dumping, impressive writing style.
The only problems I have with this book are as follows:
- I’m saddened that we weren’t able to see more of Serge’s past.
- I found the character deaths unnecessary because they were set up poorly. By that I mean, they didn’t have to die. Given the scenario, I’m sure that alternative solutions could have been determined that didn’t involve any life losses.
- There was barely any physical fighting and/or action, which is understandable since it’s a book about virtual reality and all but still.
- A few parts of the book were confusing. It took me a couple of rereads to fully understand the gist.
My biggest problem, however, is the Red Door Program. It was not elaborate, and up until now, I don’t completely understand what it actually is and why it happens. The prologue was kind of confusing as well. Also, there were certain things that were mentioned but didn’t really bear any significance in the story such as Kenders’ father. Actually, I have a lot of questions about these loose ends, but I am hoping that these will all be cleared up and properly answered in the succeeding books of this trilogy. Kudos to Stewart for a fantastic debut novel! This certainly won’t be my last read of his work.