Poster Boy by N J Crosskey

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Poster Boy by N J Crosskey

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A frighteningly plausible tale of where we're headed. Racism, terrorism, manipulation of the people by the powerful and the power brokers. Playing into the zeitgeist it takes two female protagonists to tell the tale, but that's almost irrelevant. The thriller is what keeps the pages turning, but the context is what will keep you awake when you've finished reading it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: April 2019
Publisher: Legend Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1789550146

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I first read 1984 in school, in the late seventies when 1984 still seemed like a long time in the future. It came and went quickly enough. Some of us may have breathed a sigh of relief that Orwell's nightmare had not (quite) come to pass. Others, I think, were out there already working on making sure that all he got wrong was the date. Crosskey hasn't put a date on the nightmare. If she had, I suspect it would not be as far in the future are 1984 was when I first read Orwell. If she had, I suspect it might hardly be in the future at all. A lot of what happens in Poster Boy is already happening. Sadly. Frighteningly. In the blurb, Christina Racher says "…but keep it far from anyone who might be tempted to turn its fiction into reality". My only response to that is: too late!

Racism, religious extremism and its counterpart religious intolerance are on the rise. Data access, data manipulation, simple lying for power: it is all already here.

The interplay between the media and the politicians: it is all already here.

The technology…isn't that far away.

Rosa used to count her steps as a child as a way of breaking the world into manageable chunks. Ten steps to the post box, twenty to the post box. As we meet her she is counting steps again. The steps this time are leading up onto a stage in Hyde Park where she is going to give a speech on the third anniversary of her twin brother's death. Her brother is a national hero…and Rosa is there along with the great and the good, to honour the role he played, to honour his memory…except the Jimmy on the posters is not the Jimmy she has known since the womb, not the real Jimmy…but that is only part of the reason that, as she mounts those steps, she has a bomb strapped to her.

Most dystopian novelists take a global perspective. This is what has become of the world, they say. Crosskey has brought it much closer to home. This, she shows us, is what has become of England. Other places are better. Australia, Canada, have not followed us down this road. Perhaps keenly or carefully she avoids any mention of the U.S. and the wider world plays no part at all. This is about the takeover of a country. As it happens, it's about the takeover of my country, and it frightens me because so much of the how and the why of it, I know - without being any kind of conspiracy theorist - is already happening to some degree, and is certainly capable of happening to the full horrible extent portrayed.

Jimmy was just a kid, having a lark, high on legal drugs, when he fell off a bridge. He was not to know that the resultant pile-up on the road below would change the import of his death and the rest of the life of his parents and sister. He was just a kid. Not even a well-behaved kid. Certainly not a politically minded kid. So how come within hours of his death had he been transformed into the poster boy of the ERP, the England Reclamation Party?

That how is the most frightening part, the most plausible part, of this story.

We are in the future. Technology has moved on. Everyone is living their life through their shades (think Google-glass as mandatory combination of every i-device you currently own). Think dark web as the new terrorist zone, but also the new anti-terror arena. Bombs still have their place. If flying planes into the World Trade Centre unnerved the U.S. what similar attack might have the same national psyche destruction impact on the U.K. (though Crosskey is smart in referring to England rather than GB or the UK)? A direct parallel is drawn…and the effect on the people is then played for all it's worth.

Because that is one of the key themes of the book: playing the people. Everything in this new world (or this new England) is about manipulation. Giving the people what they want – but just first making very sure you have convinced them of what that is. Major terrorist events are the best excuse there is for creating a police state: data in exchange for safety.

The point is made several times: you cannot have heroes unless you have villains. The inference is that the world has heroes enough – it is the villains that have to be created. And so they are.

While Rosa and her family and friendships fall apart in the aftermath of Jimmy's death and his co-option into the governmental cause of tightening the hold on the populace, Zara / Teresa is leading a double life. Zara Jinks is a PID, working in the Information Dept of the government, managing information flows in cyber-space, making sure that there is enough noise for people to think it's still free and rebellious, but shutting down anything that might pose a real risk, and managing potentially damaging situations like the teenage twin of the hero of the hour shouting her mouth off against the government.

Zara Jinks is an alias. Teresa is someone else entirely. Or at least so we are led to believe. She is ruthless. Where her true loyalties lie, if indeed she has any, provide one of the tension threads of the story.

Crosskey keeps the whole thing very personal. We alternative between Rosa and Teresa: their stories as they choose to tell them. Rosa is open and falling apart. Teresa is controlled. As the story ramps up to its climax you might just find yourself questioning both of them, wondering which of the likely scenarios will play out. In doing so, she not only keeps the story taut, but also makes us question what would I do?

Dystopian stories scare us because we think this could possibly happen. This one needs to scare you, because this is already happening. At the very least, the groundwork is already laid.

It's never too early to start reading about what might happen if we don't all start thinking seriously about the society we live in. We can recommend Unwind by Neal Shusterman from the young adult canon. And if you haven't read 1984, you really should.

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