There is much to be said about the imagination when it comes to entertaining a younger set. Mundane things become fascinating, and the impossible becomes completely normal. In The Discovery of Socket Greeny, we are introduced to an example of the latter approach, one that is riveting in its own right.
The story begins with an introduction to a concept known as virtual mode in a scene that makes me think of commercials for World of Warcraft. At first, it seems like a virtual reality version of the present day video game, but its possibilities are enumerated slowly over time, some more ominous than others. Beyond this, we discover a superior subset of the human species: the Paladins. Their technological advances, as well as their natural abilities, equip them to protect humankind at large from predation, natural disasters, and even themselves.
All of the unfolding events are seen through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old named Socket Greeny. Bertauski does a laudable job in exploring the adolescent psyche, showing his main character as a boy who is snarky, jaded, yet self-sufficient, who struggles with abandonment issues and hides vulnerability with sarcasm. Ultimately, however, he is guided by a strong moral compass that is as rooted in emotion as it is in thought. Sound familiar? It should – most of us have displayed aspects of these traits at one time or another. The duality of his personality is echoed in his mother and his literary foil, Broak. Both are initially rendered in grayscale, but over time, the author starts to color in the different parts that make them who they are. The naturalness of these revelations enrich the reading experience without making us feel like he is trying too hard.
The story itself is slow at first, and the first few pages very nearly lost my attention completely – the kiss of death for many a novel. Some of the futuristic terms were difficult to understand the first time around, thus adding to the disinterest. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, when the next few chapters picked up the pace, creating a vacuum from which I am still trying to resurface. The tale is spellbinding, with a plot that is complex enough to please older readers yet understandable enough to appeal to a younger set. Socket’s attitude had me chuckling to myself many times, while his frustrations with the actions of those around him often mirrored my own—or was I imitating him? At some point, the distinction started to grow hazy, and by the end of the story, its existence was obliterated.
Part of the authenticity of the story comes from the simplistic way in which it is told. Some of the sentences are overflowing with information, while others are short and clipped, imitating the thought patterns of someone who is still relatively young. While I applaud the author’s ability to make us believe in his hero’s age, I often found myself tripping over one sentence or another. Subjects would shift partway through, tenses would change inappropriately, or verbs were used where gerunds would have been appropriate. Sometimes, all three flaws were present, leading to a jarring disharmony that only a fascinating plot could overcome. Thankfully, there was one present.
The Discovery of Socket Greeny is a book that both adult and children can enjoy. I am bumping it from middle grade to young adult, however, due to Socket’s favoring of profanity in the first few chapters of the story. Believable vocabulary words for a fifteen-year-old protagonist? Certainly. Appropriate language for a children’s book? Maybe not, though parents should decide for themselves where they would like to draw the line.