So the premise of the book is that our MC, Freesia, lives on a beautiful island called Agalinas, where she is beautiful and slim, where peacocks wake her up every morning by singing her pop songs, where her wardrobe is so big she wouldn’t have to repeat an outfit for a year and where she takes classes like Advanced Eye Make Up at her high school.
Sadly for Freesia, Agalinas isn’t real. In reality, she is an ordinary-looking girl living in a town in Arizona, immersed in a 24-7 virtual reality world.
The author has an engaging way of writing that made this a quick, easy read but largely this book didn’t work out well for me and because I hate trashing books, I’m going to explain exactly why. Because, hey, what didn’t work for me might be perfectly good reading for someone else. Warning: spoilers ahead.
The plot of this book started off interestingly, with this shallow, superficial virtual world, and it had me wondering where it was going to go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. Freesia starts off in Bubble World, commits and infraction, gets kicked out, re-adjusts to the real world, gets re-admitted to Bubble World and then decides to go home. And that’s pretty much it.
I just felt like this book could have been so much more than it was. Bubble World is so saccharine-sweet, so flaky and shallow, so totally devoted to instant gratification, that I think her real-world home should have been a lot more raw and gritty in comparison to add a better contrast. Instead, her home in Arizona was comfortably middle-class, her high school was okay (although not as beautiful as Agalinas) and she made friends within about thirty seconds of arriving back.
There was no real tension in Freesia’s situation. It would have been better if there was some nefarious reason for all these children to be in Bubble World, like their life energy was being harvested, or their brain waves were being used to design new super-weapons without their knowing. Something.
I didn’t understand why the creator of the Bubble World programme made everything so superficial. The reason he gave was that children don’t flourish in traditional educational environments, but he wasn’t exactly churning our future Einsteins with Bubble World. And did he not think he’d get found out when the kids returned to the real world and could add two and two without using their fingers?
I also couldn’t work out why any parent would sign their child up for Bubble World. At all. To completely immerse your child in a virtual world - night and day - without having any access to what your child is doing, or any idea what they’re learning (in this case, nothing whatsoever) just doesn’t sound like something parents would do. I know parents send their children to boarding schools, but they’re still in the real world, with real experiences and real people.
This issue came to a head for me towards the end of the book, when Freesia is described as having ‘drool on [her] chin, matted and flat hair and dead eyes’. What parent would be happy viewing their child through a plexiglass bubble, looking like that?
Freesia’s parents tell her that their reason for sending her to Bubble World was that she had no friends. Well, boo hoo. That’s life, love. You get knocked back and you get up and try again. It’s called emotional development. Any parent who’d deprive their children of that are dumb and deserve to have their kids taken into care.
The worldbuilding was good and I got a real sense of what Bubble World looks and feels like, but the world was so Barbie-like that I was surprised how anyone could have stood it for more than a day. Just reading about it was like eating a whole jar of marshmallow fluff in one go. Even the slang words they use were too twee for me: sips and nibbles for drink and food, squiggy for crazy, wiggy for angry, de-vicious for attractive, fizz for flirt. Didn’t work for me.
And Freesia. Oh my word. I’ve read a lot of books in my life, but she is a contender for Most Shallow Character Ever. All she cares about is having enough pretty clothes and she judges people solely based on their appearance. She doesn’t grow as a character. Even at the end of the book, when she decides to stay in the real world, she gives this as her reason:
‘It was hard for her to explain exactly what she was feeling. “I don’t want to live in a world without Pop-Tarts.”’