February 23, 2024

Dropped! (Orca Anchor)

Written by Alice Kuipers
Orca Book Publishers
96 pp.
Ages 12+
RL 1.9
February 2024
When Dex is dumped by his girlfriend Lola and then deserted by his friends and his social media after an embarrassingly pathetic display to get her back, he is desperate to regain his popularity. So, he signs up for a reality show called Dropped! on which he and other contestants are dropped on Adventure Island and have five days to attract the greatest number of followers through their feeds if they are to win $250,000 and a trip to Dubai. As he says goodbye to his mother and boards a chopper, he becomes Determined Dex.
After being dropped on the island and being told "Don't risk too much," Dex checks the game's feed to meet the other contestants and view photos and live streams of their progress. There's gorgeous Amina whose efforts and story are racking up more followers than anyone else. There's buff identical twins Salvo and Kai, geeky Deepak, and timid Em. Through an app, they are given tasks to complete, like finding a treasure chest of  supplies or sharing their personal stories with their audience. Soon Dex realizes that by associating himself with Amina or engaging in risky or wild activities, he can pull in those much-needed followers. But will he go too far?

Told in chapters according to the date and time, Dex narrates what he does, what he sees, and what he thinks, sometimes in his head and sometimes live in his feed. With each new endeavour or challenge he wonders how he will be seen. Will it be Dangerous Dex or Daring Dex, or will it be Desperate Dex? At one point, he hopes they see him as Decent Dex. But, when he worries that the audience may see him as Deadly Dex, he has a revelation that takes his game from competition to cooperation. Dex may or may not win Dropped! but he still will get more than what he came for.
Orca Anchor is just one of the many series from Orca Book Publisher, with this one aimed at young adults reading below Grade 2.0 level. But don't let that detract you from the great story that Alice Kuipers tells. Dropped! may be a fast read but it's a great read for teens and adults, filled with action and social commentary, and embedded in contemporary situations with which many young people will be familiar. Saskatchewan's Alice Kuipers is an accomplished storyteller of YA (e.g., 40 Things I Want to Tell You and The Death of Us), early chapter books (e.g., Polly Diamond and the Magic Book) and even non-fiction (e.g., Always Smile: Carley Allison's Secrets for Laughing, Loving and Living) so it's not surprising that she can write an extraordinary hi-lo story for teens. By merging social media, how many young people derive validation, support, and identity, with reality shows that put teens in unfamiliar circumstances in which their true selves are exposed, Alice Kuipers has let Dex find himself. He struggles with his identity and what he wants to do or who he wants to be, labelling himself constantly and temporarily, as he reflects on his actions and thoughts. But Alice Kuipers has always been very good at seeing teens from their own perspectives, recognizing their challenges and confusion without judging them. Some might see Dex's obsession with his cell phone and with social media as ill-advised, but Alice Kuipers lets us see Dex as flawed by nature of his being human, looking for approval and solidarity as we all do but from virtual communities until he finds it within a real one. He may have been dropped from one community, but he builds a new one or two, both real and virtual, and by recognizing the value of those worlds, and by letting his good sense and self-awareness finally guide him, he'll find himself dropped into much finer ones.

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