Saturday Book Review: FEED by M. T. Anderson

Feed(novel)FEED is the story of a group of teenagers in a future where something like a combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon can be implanted directly into everyone’s brain.  We follow Titus, the narrator, and his friends through a world where the only thing not on the verge of extinction is relentless consumption fueled by ubiquitous advertising.  On the moon, Titus meets a quirky girl who questions the feed, and their relationship becomes the center of the story.

FEED is fast-paced, brilliantly written young adult science fiction.  But it is such a powerful, clear-headed book that it cannot help but leave readers of any age deeply uneasy about the world they inhabit.  This is the effect of all great sic fi, and I put FEED into that category.  It belongs on the shelf next to Flowers for Algernon, Fahrenheit 451, Neuromancer, and 1984.

What FEED gets right that even most of those other books don’t quite grasp is that the most important human technology is not rockets or computers, but marketing and advertising, once known by the more honest name of propaganda.  A civilization with Godlike powers but debased desires is doomed to decay.  I’m moralizing, but I guarantee FEED gets this point across with more force and, believe it or not, more fun.  The book is written in a snappy future adolescent slang that goes down easy and moves the story along swiftly.

I read science fiction by the truckload, and even though I read FEED years ago, it stands out in my memory.  If I ever teach again, I’ll assign this book to my class.  For any teacher or parent who wants to arm their kid against manipulation by advertising and peer pressure, there is no better book than FEED.

The first book of M. T. Anderson’s that I read was his stunning bildungsroman, adventure, and dark historical two-parter The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation.   Like FEED, Octavian Nothing burst the seams of its YA genre and lives in my imagination as an unforgettable book.  It’s about the fortunes of a young black man, formerly the subject of a bizarre scientific experiment, who fights his way through a beautiful but hellish America of the 1770s.  I still think about my native America differently because of it.

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