- A wild ride sparked by a silver car
"A big, silver car slows down next to me. I'm ambling-gazing at a tree frog on a mossy branch" (1)
These are the first sentences of Mindcull, KH Canobi's debut novel, and the last time the main character Eila is allowed to "amble." These sentences immediately set the tone of the novel and suck readers into the story by centering them in clashing action and visuals. Eila is "ambling," but she and readers are already unsettled by the car slowing down beside her. From this point Eila and readers are thrust into a journey that never quite slows down, one filled with murder plots, groundbreaking virtual technology, looming characters who are both adversary and ally and a competition that will change Eila's life forever.
While Mindcull is a novel that hits the ground running, it also manages to balance explaining the near-future society that Eila inhabits seamlessly. Mindcull's society is immersed in virtual reality (VR), which will not be new to readers, especially not the intended audience of young adults. However, Canobi takes this technology further by establishing VR headsets and earpieces as everyday items that consumers never really take off. This reality quickly sets up Eila's first obstacle when she is kidnapped by the silver car, taken to a government facility (ILEO), and forced to give consent to be a spy for a global VR competition for which Eila is a short-listee. The young, rich inventor Pita Henare has invited popular social media influencers to vlog their experience trying his new invention: Pearl, a VR bodysuit. ILEO wants the specs of this new VR tech and threatens Eila with a torture device and images of her best friend and cousin who raised her, forcing her to gather information for them. However, as we hope from a juicy plot, the following events are not straightforward.
Canobi sufficiently juggles a fast-paced, ever-twisting plot alongside Eila's emotional narrative of being used as a pawn, coupled with a traumatic backstory. Readers easily delve into the world of Mindcull because it is familiar enough that Canobi need not bog us down with information about countries, politics, or the technology. The murder [End Page 450] plot of the rich entrepreneur Henare, a big-brother government, groundbreaking technology, and a scheme by a disgraced politician to exploit the lives of mentally unwell people are all believable because they are well-established devices of science fiction. However, Canobi keeps Mindcull from becoming cliché because Eila's first-person narration is rich and engaging. Eila guides the reader through this narration, which mirrors the internal pressure, stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress in Eila's life, and details her actions to stop a murder, to keep her loved ones safe, and eventually to save the minds and lives of potentially millions, all while having to keep much of it a secret.
Mindcull's YA audience will easily recognize themselves in Eila's struggle during the uncertain times we live in today. Eila's juggling of family and friendship is just as relatable as it is thrilling when adding the high-stakes plot. As with many YA protagonists, Eila's journey is that of the reluctant hero archetype. However, though she is forced into a wild and dangerous situation, Eila's empathy spurs her into becoming an active participant. When she tries to discover more about her situation, she discovers a murder plot against Henare. She cannot tell ILEO or warn the police or risk exposing her friend Mei's underground activist organization. Nor can she let Henare be murdered without trying to warn him, even if she is only a teenager and one he has never met. Eila's empathy is a trait that some adults in the novel try to exploit by threatening loved ones or taking advantage of the loss of her parents. Because readers have warmed to her character and see that others try to exploit Eila for her naivete, her goals engage reader sympathy throughout.
Eila arrives at the...