[Review] Projection – Tabatha Shipley

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Projection is a young adult novel with strong scifi vibes and backing. It follows Emma, a young woman going through high school, who begins to have problems with a unique piece of technology this universe has developed. Specifically, they’ve created a chip implanted in one’s arm that hooks into the central nervous system, and allows individuals to interface with ‘plates’ placed at key locations. Through this, they can do things like project memories, videos, and fantasies.

That’s all fine and dandy – except, something begins going wrong, and Emma finds herself projecting randomly and seemingly without control. Her innermost thoughts wind up shown to classmates and total strangers. Not exactly ideal, when you’re trying to cope with an ongoing love triangle situation!


I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review, as part of the TBRindr program for independent author reviews.

Okay.

So.

Moreso than probably any of the other books I’ve read through this program, this book took me on a rollercoaster of ups and downs in terms of how I felt about it. I’m trying to work through exactly how I wound up, in the end. Because of that, this review is going to look a little bit different from a lot of the other ones I’ve done.

To start us off – what worked for me with Projection?

I think the big thing that really stands out to me was the innovative way they laced a serious story in alongside what amounted to teen drama. I think there was a definite Black Mirror element in play, and I don’t mean that as a bad thing. This, in my eyes, was very much more of a YA spin on how technology would interface with our culture, particularly when technology goes badly.

Once the story got moving, additionally, there was basically no fluff or filler. I really appreciated that. It did take a little bit to reach that point, but once I did, it was every bit as fast-moving as I’d expect from a YA novel.

To get some of the nitty gritty laundry list stuff out of the way –

I think that Projection was pretty well edited, but I did have some issues here and there. Particularly, there were a fair amount of run-on sentences and comma splices near the front of the book. Those settled down as I went on, but it was noticeable. I’m also a notorious grammar nazi, so take that as you will, naturally. I think the book would have benefited from another read-through, or reading it out loud.

My other main critique before diving into the meat of this would be that occasionally, dialogue didn’t really…work. This was incredibly hit or miss for me. For the most part, I found that the interactions the students had with each other felt pretty plausible and authentic. I think it could be as simple as being more consistent and using contractions more fully – there were a lot of instances where it got really close to what I could see a 15-16 year old saying, but not quite there. It was on the whole a fairly minor complaint as the book went on, though.

I think especially in the first half (I know I said ‘my other’ last paragraph like there wasn’t a third point, but sue me) there were a lot of lengthy physical descriptions which shanked my enjoyment as well. It wasn’t a book-killing aspect, certainly, but it was a bit much sometimes.

Let’s jump into the main stuff I’d like to talk about, then, which is my shifting reaction to the book as it went on.

As a note, I will keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but there will come a point when I will have to discuss the ending to properly illustrate my point. I’ll post a spoiler warning when we reach that 🙂

The first third –

When it opens, Projection is a fairly standard teen drama, to be blunt. Emma just split apart from her boyfriend, Tyler, and has a crush on the resident jock, Alex. It follows her and her friend Bella as they go through their day to day class life, with the whole chip issues very much being a side issue.

I’ll be honest. I was never much for the love triangle teenage bullshit, when I was a kid. It wasn’t my style of fiction. I do take that into account – but I did also simply find this first third of the book to be a little…difficult. I kept going, and I’m glad that I did, but this was definitely the weakest part of the book for me.

Like I mentioned earlier, there were some minor grammatical and dialogue issues that picked at me. For the most part, that was really evident in this first third, and the prose settled down as it went on. Additionally, a lot of it was really spent in some pretty juvenile reactions.

Notably, I was extremely turned off by an early memory of Emma’s we witness, which is an interaction between her and Tyler before they broke up. In it, frankly, Emma is borderline verbally abusive to him, and he’s trying his damndest to keep her happy and win her back. I expected this to be a starting place – the ‘rock bottom’ of their relationship, if you will, which they eventually grow out of and come to move beyond.

This scene was never referenced again, and that really threw me for a loop. I think especially in a young adult book, which is being marketed to children, coming back to an interaction like that and having Emma even apologize or realize that she was being a massive, massive bitch would be meaningful. Emma does improve as a character from that point, but Tyler remains very consistent . All the way to the end, he’s bending over backwards to please her, to help her out, to put himself in physical and legal jeopardy for her. These things are definitely justifiable, in the context of the events that transpire, but it did feel a little bit like he was the dog on her leash from beginning to end.

The middle third –

I was actually really impressed by the middle parts of the book. I’ll still keep this spoiler-free, but basically, Emma starts digging a little more into what exactly is going on that’s causing her to project randomly, and the answers she finds are more than a little spooky. I think this added a wonderfully tense dystopian element, and it edged into horror. I really wasn’t expecting that, and I enjoyed that very much.

Through it all, though, I had little inklings of unease. It seemed incredibly odd to me, for example, that her family was still letting her go to school when she’s randomly blasting her innermost thoughts onto any TV in range. That’s a metric fuckton of emotional trauma to put a high school student through, and it’d be more than enough reason to take some time off or take classes from home. Emma’s reactions also seemed pretty detached – if I was in her position, I’d probably have been a hell of a lot more freaked out about what was happening.

On the whole, though, I was really surprised how much I liked this section. If the opening acts were a 2-2.5 to me, the middle third was a 4-4.5, by and large.

The ending –

I’m…incredibly conflicted about how things went. And, here’s where I’ll give you the spoiler warning.

If you’re considering reading, then this is your cue to stop.

Right.

So, in short, upon digging into the subject, Emma and Tyler discover that Emma’s father was involved in a series of studies with his company, where he developed the chip they’re all implanted with. Specifically, he was working on developing a way to download memories – and upload them as well. They had 50 subjects in the trial, and out of those 50, one of them suffered permanent damage to their chip. It appears that Emma was that one. They get the evidence they need to prove that the studies have been illegally continued and confront him, after which he leaves. End of book. It’s quick and abrupt, but it is YA, so I’ll give it some leeway there.

This is where my issues really begin in full, and where the inklings of doubt I had blossomed into full skepticism.

So, for this premise to work, Emma’s dad would have been essentially experimenting on her, his daughter.

On a fundamental level, as an engineer and person of science, this immediately triggered my bullshit sensors. No researcher would ever, ever be allowed to have their own child as their subject in a clinical trial. That just wouldn’t happen.

Let’s say this is a YA novel, though, and handwave that. We’re left with the fact that the father has zero, zero ethical qualms about experimenting on his daughter, who until that moment he’s appeared to love very much. The family life laid out is very normal. He’s stern, yes, and he’s a techie, but both him and Emma’s mother seem very loving. We’re then told to believe that this loving father toyed and continues to toy with the memories of his daughter and her friends, without a care given to the emotional and physical distress he’s causing her. Because it’s for the greater good!

I had a hard time buying that.

Indeed, in the final act, things seem to change very quickly. Emma, in her infinite wisdom, decides that the proper way to handle this isn’t to go to the police or another authority. No, she’ll confront him at the dinner table. His reaction to that is a very matter-of-fact “So you found the spreadsheet”. His justifications are all very top-level and insincere. And then he gets up from the table and sets his office on fire. His home.

And then he leaves – after grabbing his daughter and physically throwing her out of the way. The same loving father we’ve seen through the whole book.

And that’s really where the book ends.

But how do you feel about it?

I had a lot of lingering feelings about this book and this ending, which is part of why this review is a little more rambling than my normal ones. Sorry xD I didn’t like the opening act, to put it bluntly. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but more than that, it felt clumsier than the rest. I enjoyed the middle third, but I had growing doubts about plausibility.

And then, when the ending hit, I was forced to face the fact that the very premise of the book was built on some pillars that weren’t all that well substantiated. I think that the idea of the father being this mastermind/evil scientist archetype isn’t inherently a bad one, but it needed a lot more work for me to buy into it. As it was, it just felt out of character – and since it was the domino holding the rest of the book up, once it fell, it did leave me with some real doubts about the rest of it.

In conclusion, I think that Projection was on the whole a good, enjoyable book. Despite the fact that it was YA, I was able to read it as an adult and get a fair amount of enjoyment out of it. That’s pretty good. I think the plot is unique and enough to make you think, which is a big plus for me. But, the core of the story needed to be developed a little more. In the end, the highs and the lows balanced out to leave me with a pretty neutral taste in my mouth.

Final score: 3/5