The Chaos of Now

The Chaos of Now was written by Erin Lange and is due for release in October 2018. It is a work of contemporary fiction that focuses on a group of hackers who are out for revenge against the bullies in their school. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

The life of Eli Bennett and every other teenager changed on the day that Jordan Bishop set himself on fire. Although no one was ever blamed for his death, it quickly became common knowledge that he was bullied online. New legislations were passed to allow schools to become cyber snoops and strict punishments were levelled against any student who rebelled against these oppressive laws.

As a young hacker, Eli has more reason to hate the laws the most. He feels that the laws restrict his fundamental freedoms and its not long before he finds some like-minded allies in his school. His friendship with Seth and Mouse starts out as a project – an attempt to enter a nationwide programming contest – but, through this, the Friends of Bishop are born.

The Friends of Bishop gives voice to students, providing a place online where they can anonymously upload videos that shame bullies. It seems like harmless fun at first – the only way that most students will ever get a chance to have revenge against their tormentors – but its not long before things get out of hand. Eli is desperate to pull the plug before things get worse but he quickly realises that his friends have other plans. How far will Seth and Mouse go to have their revenge against the people who drove Jordan to suicide?

I first discovered Erin Lange back in 2014 when I reviewed her debut novel, Butter. In many ways, The Chaos of Now is a very similar story to this. Both contain similar themes and have plots that take a slightly unexpected direction. However, while I did have issues with both novels, I will start by saying that I much preferred The Chaos of Now. While Butter featured a protagonist who was ultimately unlikable, I did feel empathy towards Eli which immediately made the story a lot easier to read.

Let’s start by talking about the positives. The Chaos of Now is an incredibly complex novel about a subject with no clear-cut answers. At its core, it is a story about bullying. In particular, much like Butter, its focus is on cyber bullying. When people think of bullying, they often overlook this silent problem. However, much like Butter before it, The Chaos of Now clearly shows how damaging this can be. While physical bullying is horrible, public humiliation can easily spread across the internet and damage a person’s reputation forever.

However, The Chaos of Now also goes beyond this to explore the ethical grey area of internet censorship. It looks at whether or not it’s right to limit people’s free speech online, clearly providing both sides of this argument in a thought provoking way. It also looks at whether or not it’s ever right to beat bullies at their own game. This is especially interesting, as anyone who has ever been put in a vulnerable position by a bully has probably fantasised about how they would get their revenge. White it seems fairly harmless at first to give voice to the victims, this swiftly becomes more sinister as the bullies start to come to harm and have their future prospects damaged by the videos posted.

Yet as powerful as its message was, the novel just felt far too exaggerated. It was actually a lot like Butter in this regard. While Butter focused on a teenager’s threat to publicly eat himself to death, The Chaos of Now opened on a scene in which a teenager sets himself on fire in a school cafeteria. While teen suicides are obviously no laughing matter, I just found this to be over the top and so made the story immediately feel unrealistic.

I also didn’t feel that the story went far enough to show the consequences of bullying. While it did focus on the effect that Jordan’s death had on his friends, it really glossed over the impact that the Friends of Bishop site had on its victims. A good example of this is what happens to Ashley. I won’t go into this too far here as I don’t want to spoil the novel, but the thing that happens to her is sickening. Yet, after the event, she just disappears from the novel and we never find out what happened to her. In a story that’s all about the consequences of bullying, this felt very weak.

The ending of the novel is also likely to divide readers as it’s not very final. The climax at the school play was quite powerful, revealing the true nature of Jordan’s bullies and showing their raw guilt, but it still managed to do this in a profoundly over the top way. The chapter that followed this was also bittersweet. While there were some positive notes, it still ended with Eli’s future in the balance. While I did actually like this ambiguity, it lacked closure as it leaves it up to the reader to decide what the future will hold for him.

The characters in the novel are probably its strongest point as they all felt very real. This is where I felt that the story was a lot stronger than Butter. Eli’s narrative flows nicely and it’s very easy to empathise with him. It was understandable, given his home situation and resentment towards the cyber laws, why he would be convinced to help build the website and I really felt for him when things started to spiral out of his control.

Beyond Eli, the novel is also filled with a number of complex and well-rounded characters. There aren’t any cookie-cutter players in this story. Everyone has hidden depths, from the motivations of some of the bullies to the secrets about Jordan kept by Seth and Mouse. The characters aren’t always likeable and don’t always do the right things, but they all did feel like real teenagers which is often something that writers struggle to achieve.

So, all in all, The Chaos of Now is a bit of a mixed bag and I don’t think that it’ll appeal to everyone. Its biggest issue was that it its premise felt too exaggerated to be realistic, but it did contain some strong characters and touched on some very modern themes. If you’re a fan of high school set contemporary fiction, I’d definitely suggest giving it a try.

The Chaos of Now is due for release on 4th October and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk

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