I picked up this book because it claimed to be perfect for fans of Black Mirror. Now, being a fan of all things Charlie Brooker, I decided to give it a go. I mean, it calls itself a “taut psychological thriller about obsession, fame and betrayal”. How can you ignore claims like that? When I picked it up, I hadn’t realised that it was a YA book. I’d not read anything from Tom Pollock and I never really look into the books that sound interesting to me. So, I started reading what I thought was an adult book and I hated it. I thought it was super shit. Then I realised who this book was intended for and I realised I had to look at it differently. Turns out, once I lowered my expectations, I found it much easier to read this book and I got through it super quickly.
Heartstream is a book that centres on the duality of technology. It has the ability to bring people together and tear them apart. Social media can help you feel part of something but, when things go wrong, it is one of the loneliest places in the world. Something that the two main characters of Tom Pollock’s novel come to realise. There is Cat, a naive teenager who finds the community she lacks in real life within her fandom. She is part of a group of fans of one of the biggest bands in the UK who believe two male band members are secretly a couple. Until she secretly starts a relationship with one of them. The minute the others find out, she is doomed. Then we have Amy: a young girl who found comfort online whilst her mother was dying. She uses new technology, Heartstream, to share her emotions with anyone linked with her feed. People become addicted to sharing in her pain and sadness. Everything looks fine until, on the day of her mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in a suicide vest sitting in her kitchen.
Heartstream has a great idea at its core. A social media app dedicated to letting other people feel what you feel. It’s literally straight out of Black Mirror. I mean it’s the Doctor out of the ‘Black Museum’ episode all over again. Although, Pollock never really does anything with the technology his title is so keen to promote. It is mentioned a bit but never really comes to play. There is so much potential with that idea. The addiction to feeling somebody else’s pain. I can think of so many other ways that this story could have gone but it just ends up pushing it to one side in favour of teenage melodrama and an uninspiring thriller.
This book is simple and plays out in a very obvious manner. The dual narrative is annoying and is meant to help heighten the mystery. Instead, it just makes things even clearer. I don’t know if it’s just me or if everyone would be able to work out the twist ending really early. However, it made the act of finishing the book easier. I kind of just rushed to the inevitable denouement. There is something of a lack of depth here. Any character development is purely superficial and everything that happens is too coincidental to accept. I mean I’m all for suspension of disbelief but, for my to go along this novel, my beliefs would be suspended so high I’d never get them back.
I think this book touches on some important topics for YA readers. It deals with the toxic nature of social media and how deeply young people can be affected. Yet, Pollock touches on these subjects so lightly and, instead, just makes this a soap opera. This is not a careful and useful study on young people and the internet. This is a teen melodrama that tries to use cheap tactics to shock. It’s just a shame it all gets away from the writer and ends up weakening any useful points. For this novel to compare itself to Black Mirror is criminal. Yes, I sped through this book but only because the writing required no real effort to read. This was too simplistic, too childish, too one-dimensional, and too boring to really grip a reader. In the hands of a different writer or, perhaps, for an older audience, this idea could have been great. Heartstream is just another forgettable YA book trying to be edgy and mature before it’s time.