Book Review: Feedback by Mira Grant

Book Review: Feedback by Mira Grant

I adore the post-Rising, needle-pricking, political mudslinging, conspiracy theory chasing, kick-butt blogging world of Mira Grant's. So I was thrilled to find out that she was writing a new installment in the Newsflesh world.

That being said, if you have not read Feed, Deadline, and Blackout, you can still enjoy this novel. No previous zombie experience required. However, Feedback parallels the events in Feed, so when several events of consequence occur, you will be spoiling yourself for that original tale. If you think you want to read all of the novels in this series, then I would proceed in the order of publication.

In this story, we're following the bloggers who are chosen by Governor Susan Kilburn's political campaign to follow her, one of the Democratic hopefuls for the presidential nomination in 2040.

And this group of bloggers is diverse.

Ash, the narrator, is an Irish lesbian whose love of zombie stalking, baiting, and hunting land her in a mental institution. Her parents committ her. She's rescued by an African-American blogger who writes copiously on inequality. Ultimately, he marries her and she becomes a United States citizen.

Nothing more is said about Ash's parents other than they have restricted access. Basically, there's a teenager who is not understood by her parents, rebels, parents freak out, and the young adult decides to cut off ties.

At first, this solution just felt emotionally stunted to me. If I were a parent and my daughter enjoyed killing zombies and was continuously putting her life in peril, I'm not certain that I would have acted differently.

But one of the themes Grant explores is the notion of family. By cutting off ties to her family, Ash's inability to deal with emotional issues is placed front and center. And this key flaw plays a role in the future of her chosen family. This decision also allows Grant to build a cast of misfit bloggers.

Misfit blogger #2 is the African-American Newsie Ben Ross. I felt for Ben. He wants everyone to do the right thing. How hard is it to follow the rules? Can't we be kind to one another? What about community? What about watching out for one another?

Every time the world acts like the self-centered bunch of knucklehead cretins we tend to be, Ben's disappoint is palpable. His earnestness is true. And he is a fantastic foil to Ash.

“I could craft a fabulous narrative from that, and let Ben have the dry, boring bits about civic responsibility and crumbling infrastructure—the sort of thing that got the older generation’s engines revving, as they continued to think of the world as something we could reclaim one day, and not just something to survive. He looked at zombies and saw a walking metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man. I saw zombies. I liked it that way.”

The next misfit is Mat, a genderfluid person who generally prefers gender neutral pronouns. Mat is fluid with their identification in career choices and interests as well. They are the technical genius the group needs who also posts videos with make-up and fashion tips.

Finally, there is Audrey, an Asian lesbian who is the group's Fictional finding a niche market writing pre-Rising crime sagas. Audrey never leaves the house if she can help it. A decision I can relate to. Initially her background is teased as a gray area so that we may discover her deep dark secrets. She's also pretending to carry on a polyamorous relationship with Ben and Ash, so that she may date Ash as Ash applies for U.S. citizenship.

I loved these characters for who they were on the page and what Grant had them doing. They're following Kilburn, in part, because it's a job, but also because they want to truthfully report on the political maneuverings in the primary and Presidential races. It's important to them to get the story right.

They are also a family unit. A family they chose. And Grant has a few moments where she seamlessly interjects her opinion on a number of issues, including social justice. The quote below is from Ash recalling her reaction to meeting Mat.

“With Mat, I had about five minutes to decide whether I was going to embrace the singular ‘they,’ or be one more in the long line of assholes who had looked at someone else’s life choices and said, ‘nah, my comfort matters more.’”

And then there are the times where the awkwardness of inserted political views threw me out of the story. Here's Ash getting nervous about police showing up to check out what she's doing. She's recalling life before the Rising.

“Reaching into a bag while under police surveillance was likely to be interpreted as reaching for a gun—and back then, just having a firearm in the presence of the cops was considered a totally valid reason for them to start shooting. If the Rising hadn’t happened when it did, the police would probably have triggered a civil war.”

Really? The police trigger a civil war? Probably? That's a jarring statement that pulls me completely out of the post-Rising world and back into our world. And we certainly have problems, but to make this gross generalization is irresponsible. There are some police officers who abuse their power, but to use words in such an inflammatory manner is an abuse of an author's power.

Interestingly, Grant also writes about reasonableness. She's a more balanced writer when she's considering economic disparity.

“The country has been in a state of high economic inequality since before the Rising. Some people have even gone so far as to say that is caused the Rising, since a lack of trust for authority and the media helped motivate the Mayday Army to release Dr. Kellis’s yet-untested cure into the atmosphere. So it would have been reasonable to think that maybe after the dead walked, things would get better for the living poor.

Being reasonable doesn’t make a thing true. Sadly.”

This concept that economic inequality could have contributed to the zombie apocalypse is much more compelling. And I think worthy of discussions about both the literal plot meaning and the symbolic undertones.

She also writes a revealing scene where Ash, as an Irishwoman who knows her alcohol, has riffled through another political allies' liquor cabinet. Ash determines that the alcohol is mid-priced, and that Congresswoman Wagman is kind.

“Rick looked dubious. ‘What if it had been the really fancy stuff? The three-hundred-dollar stuff?’

’That would tell me she didn’t stock her own bar, and was either too disconnected from the common man to know that you don’t need to pay that much for basic social drinking, or was trying to impress people with how generous she was. Neither of those buys you many points in m book.’ I put the bourbon back under the bar before leaning forward, resting my weight on my elbows and smiling at him. ‘Sometimes the middle of the road is the only decent place to be.’”

Now that's an interesting observation. Turns out that Wagman is a Republican, but leans left. Sounds pretty middle of the road reasonable for finding common ground to get things done.

I do find it curious that Grant chooses to characterize a Republican politician as the one compromising. Is Grant saying that Republicans are the ones who need to compromise or that Republicans are better at compromising or something else?

As I read these scenes where Grant's political views seep through, I also considered the political correctness of the character list. It almost felt like Grant was checking off character diversity just to anger people on the right.

  • Got an African-American? Need one. Preferably male. Check!
  • Got an Asian? Yes!
  • Got a lesbian? Right here!
  • What about someone who's bi-sexual? Indeed!
  • And don't forget a genderfluid character! Got one!

I'm not irritated by the presence of these diverse characters; I'm irritated by how sometimes their presence feels forced, unnatural. And again, this artificial feeling pulls me out of this world.

I'm going to chalk this up to Grant's writing style. In previous books, I've read reviews where people have complained about Grant repeating herself. Like the constant needle-pricking and blood testing to make sure you're human. Since those details are completely fictional, I gloss right over them. I was never bothered by this echo effect.

However, with these characters I was. Grant repeatedly reminds us that Mat prefers gender neutral pronouns. She reminds us that many people find using gender neutral pronouns awkward.

Yep. Yep I do. But I am capable of trying and over time I will get it. I am not perfect and if you expect me to be, then you will be disappointed.

What's maddening to me, though, is that Grant so effectively gives the one zinger. She has Ash perfectly frame why respecting someone's pronoun choice is important. Ash doesn't want to be the asshole who puts her own comfort over the life choices of another. That one statement builds more empathy from me than any of the other reminders.

And Mat is a fantastic character. They help their friends, even when performing field duties that they really aren't qualified for. They are skeptical about a good number of things and fact check and do background checks to protect their family. They have a wicked sense of humor.

And when I see a few characters intentionally using the wrong pronoun when referring to Mat, I'm irate! Do *NOT* insult my friend like that!

And these characters are all close friends. Once a certain political event occurs, the rest of the story is up for grabs. The events in the falling action and resolution took me by surprise. And I loved that!

This story about finding happiness and the all-American dream is narrated by an Irish immigrant, and centers around a diverse group of people who choose to be each other's family. There's all the messaging I need.

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