Audiobook Review: Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans

15 01 2013

Level 2 by Lenore Appelhans (The Memory Chronicles, Bk. 1)

Read by Jenna Lamia

Listening Library

Length: 8 Hrs 9 Min

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Level 2 is a cyberpunk version of Dante’s Inferno told with an imaginative flair. Appelhans has turned the classic coming of age novel on its head, giving us instead a "coming of death" tale full of emotion, heart and a whole lot of adventure.

Grade: B+

I have always been a fan of the unreliable narrator. Ever since the 14 year old me had his mind blown by Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I have leaned that when you are put into the mind of a character, you cannot always believe what you are told.  A savy author can use your expectations of honesty against you through a first person POV. One of my favorite things an author can do is create a world so vital to the story that it becomes a character itself. Yet, for some reason, I have never even considered the concept of an unreliable setting. Not that this is a brilliant new idea, just something that never even dawned on me. With the use of virtual worlds, the prospects for unreliable settings offer an endless supply of possibilities. We have seen these ideas explored through movies like The Matrix and novels like Nick Sagan’s `Idlewild. The very fabrics of the reality in which these tales take place are not solid, but malleable. Even the truth cannot be trusted, because a truth told with the purpose to deceive has the same moral weight of a lie, and in a virtual world, everything can be a lie. Level 2, the debut YA novel by Lenore Appelhans, explores some of these possibilities in a fascinating way. Applehans has created a world that is a sort of cyberpunk afterlife, where the main currency is memory, and those very memories could be corrupted or manipulated. In Level 2 you can’t trust anything, even if you see it with your own eyes.

Felicia has been in Level 2 for what seems a very long time. While her two friends seem content to spend their time reliving their memories and using their credit to view the memories of others on the net, Felicia can’t help but want something more out of her afterlife. When a shadowy, but beautiful boy from her life, shows up to remove her from her pod, Felicia finds herself a part of a rebellion that may be just as bad as those they are rebelling against. Level 2 is a highly imaginative tale of the afterlife that blends genres and defies easy classification. Appelhans seems to embrace a smorgasbord of influences drawing just as much on Phillip K. Dick and William Gibson as she does classic contemporary Young Adult authors. The world she creates is hauntingly beautiful, but a bit confusing at times. I found myself more thrilled with the world that she created than her main character, which I found a bit unlikable and frustrating. The novel itself had a very strange balance to it. Appelhans developed her character in peace meal chunks allowing us the relive memories of her tragic past and romantic entanglements through the use of viewing memories. This created a constant strange shift between two realities neither of which felt trustworthy. Yet, this isn’t a complaint, but the opposite. Applelhans created a theme of deception throughout the novel, which actually leads to revelation. As the reader tries to piece together Felicia’s past with her current situation, you couldn’t help but evaluate each piece of the puzzle as the author gave it to you, turning it over to examine it from every side.  Despite the fact that I didn’t really like Felicia, I could relate with her at times, which isn’t something that is always true for me in Young Adult novels. I really enjoyed her depiction of a religious youth group, which was quite similar to a group I attended as a teenager, as well as the experiences of Felicia living abroad. These little touches along the way allowed me to deal with the romantic subplots and angsty teenage fare with a touch of nostalgia and not just my typical grumpy-old-man-oscity.  Level 2 is a cyberpunk version of Dante’s Inferno told with an imaginative flair. Appelhans has turned the classic coming of age novel on its head, giving us instead a "coming of death" tale full of emotion, heart and a whole lot of adventure.

This is my first experience listening to a Jenna Lamia narration and I was quite impressed. Lamia gives a beautiful reading, creating an ethereal mood that fit perfectly into Appelhan’s world. Lamia managed to give the teenage characters an authentic feel without making them sound like bad caricatures from some teenage television melodrama. Lamia paced the novel perfectly, easily transitioning from the real world, with a straight foreword approach, to the world of Level 2, which she read with a more poetic flair. Lamia was easily able to tap into the emotions of the main character, adding depths to her experience and eliciting a genuine response from the listener. There were a few moments towards the end, when reliving some of the more devastating moments of Felicia’s past that Lamia’s reading gave me chills. Overall, I really enjoyed Level 2, due to the fascinating world the author created and the wonderful performance by the narrator.

Note: Special Thanks to Listening Library/Random House Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.