Title: Losing Normal
Author: Francis Moss
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian / Science Fiction
Losing Normal explores the dangers of rapidly evolving technology and the effect it has on everyone, including people like Alex Rinato. People never quite see Alex as “normal” because he is on the Autism spectrum. He and his friend Emilio even call themselves “weks”–weird kids. The new technology that has been popping up all over the city makes Alex feel even more like a “wek.” But when one of the newest educational televisions is installed in his classroom, Alex isn’t sure if he’s the weird one after all.
Calliope is an innovative technology company that has created the most intelligent softwares that can create new movies and television shows in minutes. But when Calliope decides to expand their technology into schools, targeting special education classrooms for children with academic or social struggles, Alex’s class is one of the first to get a Calliope TV. But the screen makes his head hurt, and then his other classmates start to feel it, and suddenly, the screen explodes.
Moss’s creation of the Calliope technology company will both fascinate and terrify readers. The manipulative nature and overwhelming control the company grows to have, echoes the classic, universal fear of robots taking over the world. With haunting and chilling imagery, Moss takes a new spin on the artificial-intelligence-gone-wrong trope, with the humans in the novel willingly submitting to the hypnotizing technology.
Shaken and unsure of what happened at school, Alex becomes more wary than ever around Calliope products. But with new TV screens being built on nearly every street corner, they become harder to avoid. When Emilio doesn’t return to school, Alex finds him hypnotized by a Calliope TV in his house.
Sara, who’s in Alex’s special education class for bad behavior, befriends Alex. And though she is at first resistant to Alex’s discomfort with Calliope technology, their visit to Emilio convinces her that the screens are definitely not educating them or helping anyone.
One of the strongest elements of the novel are its characters. Though at times Sara’s troubled, angst-y character is a bit cliché, the rest of the characters are incredibly diverse in their backgrounds and abilities. Moss does not trivialize characters with disabilities, addictions or other mental health struggles. He navigates these sensitive topics respectfully and creates accurately depicted, realistic, and relatable characters.
Calliope’s influence is growing quickly, and soon, the problem becomes nation-wide and everyone is feeling the lethal effects. Alex and Sara get pulled into the Calliope world, and it’s a fight for their, and everyone else’s, lives. Though the entire novel is fast-paced, the ending scenes are especially thrilling and action-packed. The novel’s twists and turns make the ending unpredictable, leaving readers unsure of how, and if, anyone will survive the catastrophe Calliope has caused.
Although the individual characters were strong, the underlying romantic storyline in the novel didn’t quite work. The novel would have benefitted from focusing on the strength and power in friendships. The subtle romance and its manifestation distracts from the growth and evolutions the characters undergo individually.
Suspenseful, disturbing, and intense, Losing Normal presents a frighteningly realistic world where no one is safe from the control of advanced artificial intelligence. Moss’s diverse characters are unique, touching, and relatable, even when they feel less than normal. This captivating, eye-opening, and heartbreaking vision of a society sucked dry of emotions and spirit will make readers question the role technology plays in their own lives.
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