I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game. Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes. But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.
I think the key to finding a great ARC on NetGalley is to lower my expectations. It does seem like every time I read an ARC that I am not super thrilled about, I end up loving it. That was the case for this one.
This book is about twelve contestants on a reality show. The reality show is basically like am extreme version of Survivor. The contestants face both team and solo challenges in the woods and the goal is to be the last one standing. The winner gets a million dollars and the only way out of the game is to say this latin phrase to the cameras. First of all, the people in this book are not given names. At first it bugged me, but then I liked it. Even the people working on the show were just called "the host" and "the editor" and "the camera man." The contestants are all given nicknames: Zoo, Black Doctor, Air Force, Waitress, Cheerleader Boy, Tracker. I can't remember all the nicknames. Occasionally, Zoo would mention the actual names of a couple of the contestants. But even though most of the book is told from Zoo's POV, we don't learn her name until the end. The chapters go back and forth between two time periods: the past when Zoo and the others first started the show and the present where Zoo is alone and trying to make her way through what she thinks is still part of the reality show. The chapters talking about the reality show are in third person, while the ones from Zoo's POV is told in first person. That is an interesting decision on the author's part. Reading the reality show sections, it was almost like we were watching everything from afar, like we were the viewers of this show. We saw what they wanted us to see and we found out things when the contestants did. But when Zoo is making her way through this destruction that she sees, we are able to tell exactly what she is thinking and why she is so determined to believe everything is still part of the game.
I loved the commentary with this book on how much reality TV can alter our perception of things. We were also able to see a little behind the scenes stuff with how certain characters were portrayed and how certain things were edited out to create the story that the producers wanted to tell. Throughout most of the book, you know something is wrong and that Zoo's perceptions are way off. And it isn't until the full picture of the reality show is told that we can understand just why Zoo thinks the way she thinks. And there is also the whole psychological aspect that Zoo doesn't want to realize that what she is going through is real. Honestly, there were times when even I wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't. This whole book was so suspenseful and dark and so good. I do think the ending could have been handled just a little bit better. I feel like there were still a few unanswered questions. All in all though, this was a very impressive debut.
Buy/Borrow/Skip: Buy this one. Worth the read!