You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive…
Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.
Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They’re stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.
When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.
“Assured Destruction” is a story I enjoyed a lot, fast and easy to read. The first thing I liked was its heroine, Jan, who for a change isn’t your typical “unpopular nerdy girl” (as too often seen in YA novels), but actually has real technical skills, and puts them to use. She’s also flawed in more than one way, yet manages to learn from her mistakes—mistakes that could have dire consequences, and not for herself only. After all, she’s playing with people’s private lives, building her Shadownet.
By the way, I enjoyed the Shadownet idea, too. It has a lot of potential, and I can see several possibilities with such an idea, if the author decides to go on with it in the other books. (I don’t know if he will; I just like it when a book prompts me to imagine potential plot lines, challenges my imagination, and don’t just leave me “passive”.) I probably sit at the frontier between two worlds here, too: savvy enough myself regarding computers and internet security to understand the technical lingo without batting an eyelid, but not enough to spot if there were incoherent parts in how Jan do things… so I won’t judge the book on that. On the other hand, I think that even if you’re not familiar with computer science, said lingo is still depicted in ways that can allow you to understand what’s happening.
There are moments when I wondered about Jan’s reactions, though, because they seemed a little rushed, or not as clever as I would’ve expected. That said, she’s no action figure either, so perhaps there’s logics to her madness, so to say; and given her circumstances, simply putting the matter into the hands of adult figures wouldn’t cut it, indeed. At least she realizes she had made a mess of things, and tried to take responsibility by righting those in her own ways.
I wasn’t so thrilled about the love interests part. It seemed to me that they weren’t important to the story, that the latter could’ve been the same without them. Maybe it’s just me, because love triangles aren’t my thing anyway. Fortunately, said triangle doesn’t take too much room, and doesn’t detract from the story: Jan remains focused on repairing her mistakes, and doesn’t go around swooning over guys for 100 pages. Thank you, Mr. Stewart, for keeping her true to herself, and not going for the cliché girly behaviour.
Those quibbles put aside, the story mostly flowed without a hitch for me. I think it’s also a good theme for the YA audience in general, because it shows, through Jan, how internet and the use of new technologies has its downfalls. I’ve been able to see by myself, more than once, that younger people (I mean the 13-16 crowd mostly) aren’t all aware that what they post online could be turned into a weapon against them (=cyber-bullying). Somehow, “Assured Destruction” could very well be a story that would help such teenagers to understand, while not dumbing down things, and not doing it in a condescending, pompous and artificial way.