David Sosnowski’s YA, satirical sci-fi Buzz Kill is an ambitious and humor laced examination of the future of AI and teen suicide.
The story focuses on two teenage hackers that have never met and live far away from each other and who desire to build an artificial intelligence that is capable of preventing teen suicide.
Pandora Lynch is a homeschooled, self-taught hacker who lives in Alaska. While a genius, her hyper expressive face akin to that of Jim Carrey and lacking social skills make her a target at her highschool. With her only friend being her grandma who is quickly succumbing to dementia, Pandora is thrilled to find a kindred hacker soul in her therapist father’s newest client, George Jedson. George Jedson is a foster kid (the result of his mother being deported to Mexico) and self-taught hacker in San Francisco, California. He escapes his foster home to become a hacking vigilante that gets scooped up by one of the biggest tech companies around. George is presented with the chance to either become a legit coder or perform the biggest hack of his life. He’s not sure what to do, but after meeting his online therapist’s daughter, she gives him an idea.
I wanted to enjoy this book, but I found that it tried to be too many things at once. At certain points it felt like a humorous YA contemporary with quirky characters and a hint of young love. Then, the story would switch to pages of technological jargon about coding and artificial intelligence, followed by a dramatic and heartfelt storyline about the heartbreaking experience of a loved one suffering from dementia. It was disorienting and would cause my immersion to break.
Also, this book is literary in its writing style. While beautiful, I found myself having to read slowly in order to understand exactly what was happening. The poetic, literary tone often clashed with the snappy, YA voice.
A positive, however, is that the character of Gladys Lynch is fantastic. Well-developed, brainiac, and snarky grandmas are hard to come by in YA. I fell in love with her story of being a WWII cryptographer and I often forgot I was reading sci-fi and not historical fiction. It was heart-breaking to watch her slowly lose herself to dementia, something that I have been acquainted with in my own life.
Lastly, the theme of teen suicide felt largely neglected in the story. While being the catalyst for Pandora and George to work together, the topic was not fleshed out until the last hundred pages of the book, making it feel quite rushed. Also, the conclusions the story came to were quite bleak and sobering.
I do not recommend this book for people who are depressed and/or have suicidal tendencies. This book may be triggering.
In the end, Buzz Kill proves to be a scattered thought experiment on the nature of AI and teen suicide, unfortunately living up to its name.