Waste of Space by Gina Damico

“Cram ten hormonal teens into a spaceship and blast off: that’s the premise for the ill-conceived reality show Waste of Space. The kids who are cast know everything about drama—and nothing about the fact that the production is fake. Hidden in a desert warehouse, their spaceship replica is equipped with state-of-the-art special effects dreamed up by the scientists partnering with the shady cable network airing the show. And it’s a hit! Millions of viewers are transfixed. But then, suddenly, all communication is severed. Trapped and paranoid, the kids must figure out what to do when this reality show loses its grip on reality.”

Judging by the chatter online about this book, it seems like you will either love it or hate it.  Me, I loved it.  I will say this, though: in order to appreciate this book, you need to like the kind of wacky, totally over the top humor that you’d see in a Monty Python sketch.  This novel is satire taken, unapologetically, to the extreme, and even if you like the book, you’ll probably find yourself shaking your head and saying “Wow” more than once at the sheer audacity of what you’re reading.

And Damico pulls no punches in setting up her little reality show.  Every aspect of it is spoofed to the max and beyond.  I found myself reacting to the book the same way I react to Stephen Colbert laying down a burn on a politician–with an “Oooooh!” of amusement and appreciation.  The one that really stuck in my mind was when the head of the cable channel sponsoring this show describes the “four golden tickets” of casting: disabled, gay, minority, and orphan.  The callousness with which the show plans to exploit these kids is stunning (although I admit that it was funny that the “disabled” kid was picked because he’d lost the tip of one finger), but at the same time, you get a kind of savage amusement at how blatantly the practices of reality shows are called out.  I also loved how the show had to start creating drama when throwing ten teenagers together into a small area didn’t produce enough drama on its own.  The fact that we get to see the thought processes that go on behind the scenes are (one hopes) greatly exaggerated, but they’re still indicative of what we all suspect or know about reality TV–just how unreal it is.

I think one of the allures of this book–and of reality TV in general–is that there is an air of unpredictability.  You may be able to script interactions, but you can’t completely control how the people involved will react.  That’s what gets people to tune in to Survivor and Big Brother year after year: we want to see a train wreck in progress.  And that’s what this novel lampoons all through its first half.  Then, suddenly, the novel takes a hard right and becomes something completely different while still retaining the framework that it started with.  It’s brilliant, because the author is using the exact same techniques that reality shows do in order to hold your interest.  She also uses the aforementioned framework to ensnare you: the entire book is told by someone purporting to be leaking behind the scenes secrets from the show that were never seen on the air.  So, you can add in the air of titillation at finding out something previously unknown to the the mix.

There were a couple of things that I wish the book had done better.  Most notable for me was that the book didn’t quite succeed in trying to show the real people behind the scripted stereotypes.  A few of the characters are successfully shown for who they are outside of the show, but I don’t think it went as far as it could have (and maybe should have).  Also, I had some lingering questions about events during the story that weren’t answered, and although I know that they weren’t meant to be answered, it still left me with a minor feeling of being left hanging.

All things considered, though, I think that this novel has enough to offer to more than overcome those small complaints.  An engaging format, a unique setting, and a plot that’s dialed up to eleven make this one of the most entertaining books so far this year, and definitely one of the most interesting.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

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