|Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
4 / 5
"The little room was so hot that Leila tried not to move insider her clothing."
One of Time Magazine's Ten Best Books of 2014 Selected by NPR, Slate, and Kirkus as one of the Best Books of 2014 Shortlisted for the Pacific Northwest Book Award
Three young adults grapple with the usual thirty-something problems--boredom, authenticity, an omnipotent online oligarchy--in David Shafer's darkly comic debut novel.
The Committee, an international cabal of industrialists and media barons, is on the verge of privatizing all information. Dear Diary, an idealistic online Underground, stands in the way of that takeover, using radical politics, classic spycraft, and technology that makes Big Data look like dial-up. Into this secret battle stumbles an unlikely trio: Leila Majnoun, a disillusioned non-profit worker; Leo Crane, an unhinged trustafarian; and Mark Deveraux, a phony self-betterment guru who works for the Committee.
Leo and Mark were best friends in college, but early adulthood has set them on diverging paths. Growing increasingly disdainful of Mark's platitudes, Leo publishes a withering takedown of his ideas online. But the Committee is reading--and erasing--Leo's words. On the other side of the world, Leila's discoveries about the Committee's far-reaching ambitions threaten to ruin those who are closest to her.
In the spirit of William Gibson and Chuck Palahniuk,Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is both a suspenseful global thriller and an emotionally truthful novel about the struggle to change the world in- and outside your head.
Well, I started and restarted this book a bunch of times, for various reasons. Not because it wasn't good or engaging, just because other things got in the way and I kept having to put it down. (I have a note that I started reading this 10/21/14 - just over a year ago!) But, I am glad I finally stuck through to the end - it was definitely a smart and entertaining romp. The characters were all quite memorable, and I do like how the author starts off with them in entirely disparate settings, only to pull them together through circumstances as the story unfolds. I also enjoyed seeing the characters ultimately redeem themselves, even though most of them started off seeming hopeless.
The reader first meets Leila, an idealistic but frustrated NGO worker trying to deliver a Western public health program to Myanmar. Then we get Leo, inheritor of a board game fortune who seems to be squandering his life because his ideals are too big for the world he lives in. Lastly, there is Mark, a Harvard graduate who is certainly squandering his life by coasting on the success of a self help book he sort of wrote. The three seem rather at sea, each in their own ways. That is, until Leila stumbles across something suspicious in the middle of nowhere, and sets everything in motion.
The book's global conspiracy was deliciously close-to-home, with the SineCo conglomerate being what I figure was a thinly-veiled version of Google. While they explicitly said they didn't identify as anarchists, the underground group fighting back against worldwide corporate takeover was right up my alley. And while the specifics of everything were left a bit fuzzy, it did seem that the takeover was a real future possibility - terrifying to contemplate. This techno-thriller feel - along with the characters I actually wanted to see succeed - is what kept me picking up the book.
(And on a side note, I did particularly enjoy that I had just been to Portland, OR, so I recognized some of the landmarks mentioned there. That was pretty neat - and wouldn't have happened if I hadn't stretched my reading out quite so long!)
Initially, I did not like the open-ended ending (oxymoron?), but I do appreciate why Shafer left things the way he did - it would be almost impossible to write the subsequent story, and it felt kind of like Children of Men, where the reader/watcher is left open to whatever possibility. It could be good, it could be bad - but that's not really the heart of the story. The story is the story, and it's worth the read.
P.S. I was lucky to receive this as an ARC way back when, from Netgalley. Glad I finally did get around to it!
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