Sam and his friends, after having their high school for the gifted shut down, have been working on a tiny, undetectable, utterly reliable lie detector. They’re in it for the money–all of them except Theo, that is. Theo wants to create a better world, a BS-free one where honesty will thrive.
But Theo is found dead after they turn down an offer to sell it to a huge corporation, and Sam and his (remaining) friends find themselves on the run away from greedy companies, corrupt privatized police, and even the president herself who are looking to steal their Truth App (not an actual app).
As Sam and his friends begin to distribute their invention, they quickly realize the costs of a BS-free world: the lives of loved ones, and political and economic stability. The must now work on shaping this new world after living in a world held together by lies.
This wasn’t too shabby, but there were definitely a few things I wish were executed a little better.
The concept is wild and whoever made the Phineas and Ferb episode comparison was honestly spot on.
The first part of the novel felt a lot like that–a group of really smart teens creating a lie-detector. But then it evolved into a little more chaotic, slightly darker sort of chaos than a regular P&F episode.
For me, it felt like this novel was divided into 3 parts: Phineas and Ferb episode of creating cool, somewhat outlandish technology; darker, on the run from the government who’s trying to murder us; and the societal ramifications of a lie-detector becoming widely available.
This made it feel kind of segmented and I wish the overall storyline had a more arching plot. Like, because section 2 had so much action, the climax wasn’t as climax-y as I wanted it to be. Overall, it makes sense how it fits together, but as I read the way the parts fit together felt a little clunky.
I loved the worldbuilding though, and it’s quite eerie to think about the similarities between this futuristic world with a corrupt government and our own world. I think McIntosh did a really good job of working with that dystopian idea and how one small invention would change the world.
This whole concept is a lot of food for thought, and although McIntosh doesn’t explore every single outlet for what might happen to America if everyone had lie-detectors, he does a decent job of showing us one possibility, as outrageous as it may seem when compared to today’s society.
This could have been rated higher, but what I felt dragged this story down was frankly the characters. It’s already kind of cliché with the whole group-of-genius-kids trope, but the characters felt too flat and two-dimensional for them to be anything except a cliché.
I have a really great example to illustrate my point: for around 90% of the book, I had no idea what the narrator’s name was, and frankly didn’t care. (After checking Goodreads, I learned that his name is Sam.)
Their whole group of genius friends just felt really flat and bland to me; I couldn’t really relate to any of them and I felt like Sam was kind of a creeper with some of his actions?
(The one that I kind of liked was killed off so…)
I know McIntosh is an adult SF writer, which is probably why it’s hard for me to relate because YA has a huge character focus even when you’re not writing a character-based plot, and I think McIntosh just hasn’t adjusted to writing YA yet.
I guess despite how much I enjoyed the book, it still felt a little outlandish and silly and I wish it took on more emotional weight rather than trying to make things less intense. I didn’t really want a Phineas and Ferb episode from this book, I wanted something a little more serious and intense. It wasn’t really a satire like Your Robot Dog Will Die by Arin Greenwood, but it still had some of that same atmosphere.
Overall, I think the idea and the plot is really great, but some of the execution just didn’t do it for me. If you’re looking for some dystopian food for thought feat. lie detectors, I’d say check it out, but otherwise, you might want to look for another read.
Thank you so much to Netgalley and Random House for providing me with a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review!
Genius kid(s) book recommendations. And go!