Snow, Carol. Bubble World.
30 July 2013, Henry Holt and Co.
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Freesia's life on the island of Agalinas is perfect-- her classes are more concerned with sips and nibbles than school work, she can shop as much as she wants, and her mother brings her coffee in bed every morning. She can check on her friendlies with her bubble, and even find out what her enemies are up to. She has good friends, and every day is a party. When frequent black outs turn ugly, she finds herself in a beige house in Arizona, where a woman who looks like her mother (but less shiny), refers to her as "Francine". Francine isn't as pretty or well dressed as Freesia, and she soon figures out that Agalinas is part of a virtual world that she is able to live in with the aid of drugs that help her forget reality. Bubble World is the brain child of a man who is trying to get parents to turn their children over to his virtual school, which supposedly has fun but in-depth lessons on everything from Latin to Physics. When Francine recuperates from the medications she's been taking and goes back to the virtual world, she tells others about the "real" world and gets herself kicked out. Her mother, a technology vlogger, is not happy about this. Freesia/Francine has to learn to survive in the "real" world, even though Agalinas is much more appealing. When her mother is determined to send her and her younger sister back, Francine has to decide between friends and ways of life and do what is best for both of them.
Strengths: Certainly the most innovative and thought provoking fantasy book I've read in a long time. Could virtual reality be used in this way by parents who can't deal with their children? Could people who want to make money off it gives kids what they want even if it's not good for them? Very good world building, intriguing switches between the two worlds, and some heartbreaking moments with some of the friends, especially Ricky.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure about the audience for this. There's not anything that makes it inappropriate for middle school, but I'm not sure to whom I would hand it. The cover and fashion details are going to put off the readers of dystopia who would find the second half of the book fascinating. Will deliberate.