The Real Unreal

Enslow/West 44. Aug. 2023. 200p. Tr $25.80. ISBN 9781978596672; pap. $16.35. ISBN 9781978596689.
Gr 7 Up–A disenfranchised teen falls down the alt-right conspiracy theory pipeline and finds himself in a dangerous situation in this hi-lo verse novel. Nate, a middle-class teenager in the near future, is fired from his summer job and has his art program at the local community center canceled due to an illness outbreak. Spending more and more time online, he finds himself in rage-filled forums about secret societies that are thought to rule the world. He starts receiving private messages from “Mockingbird” about the local community center, once a masonic lodge, which he says is being used for human trafficking and satanic rituals. Mockingbird and Nate’s rhetoric intensifies until they decide to meet to graffiti the community center, but Mockingbird has something even more dangerous in mind. The story offers a realistic demonstration of how easy it is to fall into conspiracy theories and hateful online groups. The author is also careful to show Nate deconstructing these beliefs and making amends for his behavior. The novel is an example of how believing in conspiracies can lead people to violence and other dangerous actions. The fact that many of the conspiracy theories in the novel have roots in anti-Semitism was never addressed, but overall, this is an excellent teardown of conspiracies without making readers feel preached at. This is a novel in free verse and the story just flies by, which may be an incentive for hi-lo readers. The book is written at a second to third grade reading level.
VERDICT An excellent hi-lo verse novel about a vital topic in today’s political landscape.

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