Book Review: Upload

This is the second of three YA novels I’m reviewing for the Red Adept Publishing book tour, “Young at Heart.” Disclaimer: Review copy provided by Red Adept Publishing.

A teenager stumbles upon a murder and a violent conspiracy in the YA thriller Upload by Collin Tobin.

Jay Brooks struggles to cope with his mother’s murder and his father’s strangely distant behavior by cruising for open Wi-Fi hotspots to hack. Joining him is Bennie Wells, a wheelchair-bound hacker with a fondness for raves. When Jay witnesses the rape and murder of a young woman in the street, he and Bennie discover unusual signals being uploaded from cell phone towers. Their investigation uncovers an extortion ring led by Sturgeon, a man with possible connections to an abandoned government project. With the help of two brutal Russian henchmen, Bolshoy and Malenky, Sturgeon will murder anyone who gets in his way — and Jay and his father may be his next targets. But Sturgeon’s plot may be a small part of a more dangerous conspiracy with global implications.

As a thriller, Upload relentlessly raises the stakes and increases the peril to its characters. The story builds to a climax that makes sense and adds some fascinating twists. The story switches from one character’s point of view to another. It helps us learn more about the characters, and it makes sense when you understand the story’s key device. The shifting point of view adds to the suspense and builds tension.

The characters in Upload are well developed and engaging. I especially liked Bennie. Tobin elevated him from being just another nerd to someone with depth and inner reserves of strength. Even the villains in Upload are well rounded with strong motivations. Bolshoy and Malenky could have been stereotypical Russian heavies, but Tobin adds enough personality to their brutality to keep them interesting. When the real (and unexpected) big bad arrives, that person’s motivations make the character both tragic and monstrous.

Tobin also does a great job in making the tech in the story plausible and credible, thanks to his long experience in the software industry. (I’m also a software industry veteran, so I can vouch for his technical knowledge.) Tobin takes the surveillance technologies already in use and amps them to terrifying extremes.

My only issue with the book is Tobin’s use of description. Phrases such as “grasping for the source of the pain like an enraged dinosaur in a Creature Double Feature movie” draw attention to themselves and slow down the narrative.

However, Upload leads to an interesting payoff. It shows the dangers of the surveillance state and how people’s desire to rid the world of evil can be brought to horrifying extremes. These themes, along with an inspirational show of courage, make Upload worth reading.