Reviewed by Richard Webb @RaW_writing
At the heart of Kim Curran’s Glaze is a depiction of a teenager’s turmoil — simultaneously trying to fit and yet also be individual — set against the backdrop of a high-tech conspiracy. The teenager in question is Petri, a disarmingly normal youth through whose eyes we feel the acute awkwardness of negotiating relationships with boys, friends, adults and authorities.
She suffers several indignities and injustices – her embarrassing name, the non-empathetic treatment by her self-absorbed and inattentive mother ZiZi (the Creative Director of Glaze), and then being mistakenly implicated in an ‘antisocial’ crime. As with many teens, Petri is becoming aware of the foibles and flaws of adults and authority yet is rendered powerless by their decisions, a condition most of us can relate to. The means by which she gradually empowers herself to effect change gives the book its drive and makes for a compelling and pacey read.
The ‘Glaze’ of the title represents the corollary of social multimedia platforms combined with current development trends in wearable communications technology: an intuitive and pervasive (often invasive) Internet. Glaze is accessible at the age of sixteen by a chip surgically embedded in the brain, allowing private thoughts to interface with publicly-shared information and content. Like any medium, there is a benefit but also a dark side – firstly, the holistic quality of Glaze can be an irresistible, almost drug-like experience and reality can seem colourless without it; secondly, it can leave the unwary open to over-exposure.
Curran’s portrayal of an Internet-on-steroids feels timely and relevant. It is a deliberately exaggerated technology environment carrying an understated vein of social commentary which should engender debate amongst the target YA readership; the author weaves this in making it feel naturalistic and without ever becoming heavy handed.
There are some minor quibbles with one or two details in the depiction of how the biotech industry works in the real world (eg. the time required to develop and launch a new technology and for mass adoption to be achieved) but these are incidental and should be skirted over; the technology is detailed enough to give a sense of its implications but vague enough to keep its implementation plausible.
When Petri is denied access to Glaze it throws all her relationships into sharp relief, alienating her (even more) from ZiZi, as well as her peers…except for one enigmatic boy. When Petri does get onto Glaze and feels the sensory overload of the ‘antisocial network’, he motivates her into positive action. They combine to disruptive effect and Curran deftly handles the friction caused. Even after the final resolution of the story, questions raised about the role of social media and personal/public connectivity in hang in the air, suggesting that there are no easy answers. It is to the credit of the author and the story that these issues, and the central relationships between characters, are presented with a rounded maturity.
There is something of the cautionary tale in here, presented as a tech-thriller with a hint of teen romance. It moves swiftly but takes its time to stop and think.