Nerve by Jeanne Ryan was originally released in 2012 – I read the 2016 movie tie-in edition. I have not seen the film yet, but some of my review will include thoughts on the film.
Nerve is about a girl named Vee who feels like she’s the supporting actress in her own life. Her friend Sydney is the star of the show in their high school, the girl all the boys like, and Vee is fine with being the sidekick most of the time. There’s a crazy reality show called Nerve that gives dares to players in order to win prizes; they aren’t documented by a camera crew but rather by Watchers – people who sign up to film and follow players for the show. In a fit of rebellion, Vee films a dare and it gets a lot of attention. She’s assigned a partner, Ian, and they begin completing dares together. They get into the live rounds that lead to bigger and bigger prizes – it also leads to danger. Is this just a reality show with production and protection, or is Nerve something much more sinister? And who is running the show?
I am really conflicted about this novel.
The concept is fantastic. From reading about Jeanne Ryan’s other novel, Charisma, I can give her a lot of credit for finding unique, super relevant, and thought-provoking plot lines. It’s kind of in the vein of Black Mirror (one of the most fantastic shows ever made) – how far can technology advance us before it also becomes our downfall? Her grip on this sideways reality and how it works is intelligent and deep.
The Nerve game of the book is all about manipulation, disrespect for the privacy of public figures, and our desires to feed on fear and violence. The way the story plays out is strong, and it leaves you on a cliffhanger in regard to the resolution of the big picture. I was a little frustrated by the lack of explanation of the world. The technology seems just slightly beyond our reality (again, very Black Mirror) but I didn’t really understand what kind of access or capability it had, which decreased some of the fear when it came to how they discovered information or how much the Watchers really had access to about the players.
I did not like Vee; and from what I read of Charisma I don’t think I’d like Aislyn either. They were weak – not in terms of character but in terms of characterization. Vee was insecure and it rarely went deeper than that. All of the characters felt very surface level except Ian, which kept me from truly worrying about what happened to them. The characters were sort of enhanced stereotypes. I didn’t care who lived or died, I just wanted to see how the story played out. And maybe that was intentional, to show that I as a consumer was as callous as the Watchers in the book, but considering we are told the story from inside Vee’s head I kind of doubt that.
Just looking at the movie cast and some of the photos really depressed me because I don’t think it expanded on what was so well done in the novel, and I don’t think it added anything deeper to the characters. The races were changed, identities were altered, and I think it was more a vehicle for certain people than an actual adaptation. Obviously in the visual realm they needed to add more dares or change them to make it more appealing, but I think that likely diminished any growing horror that there is no way out and no way to win the game. I will see the film, but for a book I didn’t really like, I’ll probably stand by the belief that the book is better.
This book is worth the read for the concept and plot. Nerve is not that far from our reality and that is chilling. 5/5 for the plot, 1/5 for the characters. I’m going 2.5/5 overall.