Review: 'Mind Games,' By Shana Silver Shana Silver's young adult debut follows a young prodigy at a school for gifted students who discovers that her father's memory-hacking technology is being used for nefarious purposes.
NPR logo 'Mind Games' Delivers Fast-Paced Tech Thrills

'Mind Games' Delivers Fast-Paced Tech Thrills

I'm a complete sucker for a good amnesia storyline. It's probably because I've always loved puzzles, which is exactly what the amnesia plot presents itself to be. There is a solution, but only the author knows what it is, because the story is meant to keep us guessing all the way to the end. The challenge is not for the reader to suss out the ending — that way only leads to madness and frustration. The challenge is for the author to provide just enough information to keep us interested, while holding just enough out of reach to keep us (and the characters) totally oblivious.

As you've probably already guessed, Shana Silver's Mind Games isn't my typical contemporary young adult romance review fare. I made a special request for this super-sciency near-future debut novel. And I am so glad I did! I was absolutely blown away.

Arden Varga is a prodigy. Her mother founded a cutting edge tech company, as well as a school for incredibly gifted students. Arden's father, now deceased, invented HiveMind, a program that essentially turns the human body into a computer, able to save and retrieve data in an instant. Monica Varga High School is the last human trial for HiveMind before its worldwide public release.

Arden uses her extraordinary talents to ... hack the HiveMind and deal memories to her classmates on the side for cash. The book opens as she's being approached by Sebastian, a guy who seems to have had a complete memory wipe. She's never seen him before, but according to her best friend, they have a (possibly romantic?) past.

So Arden starts digging. She and "Bash" were apparently partners on their senior thesis project, but no one can seem to remember what that is. No one. I freak out when my word processing program loses a few hundred words — Arden has not only lost four years of research, but her back-up hard drives are all smashed and the pages in her notebook are gone. She's talking to her professor about it when his memories of their project are erased, right in the middle of their conversation — but not before he discloses that if Arden and Sebastian don't fix the bug in their project before Friday, someone is going to die. Possibly thousands of someones.

The suspense unfolds at a thrilling pace, as Arden and Sebastian make one deliciously creepy discovery after another. It's a YA Michael Crichton novel, minus the 100-page master class intro on quantum mechanics, biotech, and string theory. (I may have giggled in sheer delight at Silver's first mention of string theory.) Readers don't need to be completely fluent in programming, but some tech savviness certainly heightens the enjoyment.

I'm not going to lie, this book is complicated. Mind Games is a genius book for genius readers. The chapter headers are all binary. A handful of the scenes need to be read forward — and then backward. It's almost as if the book itself is an elaborately written code, annotated with notes that only the author understands.

The thing the reader needs most to get through the confusion is to trust that this Gordian knot is all going to unravel in the end. Happily, this is the role I get to play. You don't have to trust Arden, but you can trust me.

Mind Games is an absolute blast. If you are a fan of Memento or Strange Days, this one's definitely for you!

Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.