By EVE THOMPSON
“Followers” is a pleasant read yet makes a fairly unoriginal point
If you’ve ever wondered what life would be like if the government controlled the Internet, look no further than “Followers,” Megan Angelo’s debut novel. Angelo, prior to writing “Followers,” was a renowned journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Glamour and Elle.
“Followers” tells the story of two young women struggling to become famous and navigate the perils of social media in 2015 New York City. Orla, a wannabe novelist, writes for Lady-ish, a Cosmopolitan-type online magazine. She meets Floss, whose lifelong goal of becoming an influencer is suddenly placed in Orla’s hands. The two hatch a plan to put Floss on the A-list, manipulating those in their way with little care. Their antics lead to a television show deal, a skincare line, and the reappearance of an old boyfriend, culminating in a suicide which leads the group to question everything they’ve stood for.
Exactly thirty-five years later, we follow Marlow, who lives in Constellation, CA. Constellation is a closed town filled with government-appointed celebrities and influencers whose every moment is televised. Then, Marlow discovers a secret about her past that encourages her to flee the safety of Constellation and find out who she truly is. Marlow embarks on a journey that leads her past the perfect scripts and cameras to the bright lights of New York City. She learns what true privacy is, and whether it is worth the price.
“Followers” joins these two stories, while making a poignant statement about the cost of technology. With likable characters and a unique concept, “Followers” is a fun read, attempting to answer questions we all struggle with. However, I had mixed feelings about this book. It’s easy to read, but hard to like.
“Followers” opens with a Friedrich Nietzsche quote about the dangers of seeking followers, juxtaposed with a quote from Kylie Jenner, discussing her thoughts about being an “influencer.” This juxtaposition tells you exactly what the book is about even before you start reading. My description of “Followers”: it’s Kylie Jenner trying to be Nietzsche. It makes a powerful statement, but one that’s easy to say. There’s no one in the world who would argue that social media is all positive. I think we’re all aware of the downfalls.
I think Floss’s struggles are things we all struggle with. After the suicide that changes everything, Floss is interviewed by a reporter. She explains that she thought she deserved the fame, that she was fun, that she had an interesting life. Most of all, she explains that she thought she was special. I think we all struggle with the idea of “deserving it.” With the age of social media, we all want to be seen. We’re obsessed with the idea of followers, that people are out there waiting to see what we ate for breakfast, what we’re wearing today. We’re obsessed with the idea that people are out there who want to be influenced.
I’ve heard “Followers” compared to “The Truman Show,” and for good reason. Marlow’s story line is like “The Truman Show” combined with “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” but maybe more of the latter than the former. In my opinion, “Followers,” at least for the first 200 pages, lacks the complexity, the emotionality, and the depth one can find in “The Truman Show.” In the last 180 pages, we find the true heart of the story. It isn’t about social media or data protection, although that is a large part of the story; it’s about a mother and a daughter.
“Followers” is a little slow, a little clunky and was executed poorly. However, it makes a powerful and poignant message. In my opinion, the message is one that needed to be said, and one that needed to be heard. In a time when we’re all a little addicted to social media, it is important to care about the side effects, or, in Marlow’s time, the after effects.
I would caution those who might be triggered by mentions of suicide, depression, anxiety, abortion and sexual assault.