Photo courtesy of: Graydon House Books.
Thanks to media outlets such as Instagram and YouTube, we are caught up on nearly every influencer’s and celebrity’s life to the finest detail. In her debut fiction novel Followers, author Megan Angelo creates a dystopian allegory on how grotesque and destructive celebrity worship can be.
This novel alternates between past and present, presumably to draw a sharper contrast between who characters once were and how much their humanity deteriorates over time. We start the book in the year 2015 with, two of the main characters, Orla and Florence, living together in a New York City apartment and hoping to achieve celebrity status. Orla, a clever yet insecure burgeoning blogger, dreams of becoming a celebrated author. Florence, also dubbed Floss, has virtually no talent but is so entitled that she unflinchingly believes fame is her undeniable fate.
Though both young women pursue notoriety, they begin to diverge when it comes to the lengths they will go to achieve their dream. Followers periodically flashes forward to 2051, gradually revealing the devastating aftermath that this obsessive cult of celebrity-worship has created.
While the pursuit of online fame is familiar to readers, the extremes these characters will go to in order to achieve it is both bizarre and oddly entertaining. Though today’s teens have witnessed people consuming Tide Pods for their 15 minutes of fame, Florence and a slew of other would-be celebrities will readily sacrifice their individuality, freedom, and morality for theirs. Celebs in 2051 wear mandatory devices on their wrists that continually advise them on how to gain more followers, leaving them unable to think for themselves. They are assigned their own shows to solely sponsor products. Every part of a celebrity’s life is streamed for their respective followers to view, including dating, marriage, divorce, and even pregnancies.
At first, readers will want to identify with these characters and their glamorous lifestyles. However, as certain characters become increasingly despicable we’re forced to distance ourselves and truly look at who they really are, as well as what our attachment to them says about us. In the beginning, readers will adore and laugh over how bold, daring and spontaneous Floss can be. However, as the story progresses, we find out Floss’s influence has devastated a number of people’s lives in a variety of tragic ways. Most readers will not only begin to ask, “What’s wrong with her?” but also, “What’s wrong with me for admiring her?”.
The most problematic aspect of Followers is the overall pacing. The novel will lose your attention in certain areas, especially with the introduction of a number of minor characters, all with their own backstories and subplots. Though the additional characters seem intended to build suspense, their stories not only make portions of the book tedious but also drag the main plot out long after most readers will have guessed what the climax of the story will be. Ironically, after Angelo hints at approaching disaster for chapter after chapter, by the time the big climax arrives, it feels predictable and disappointing.
Despite the significant weaknesses of Followers, there are characters in this book that readers will want to root for. Orla simply wanted to become a famous author with the help of Floss’ growing fame but becomes alienated by how appallingly immoral Floss becomes. Even though readers may initially feel frustrated by the fact that Orla got herself into this mess, they will soon empathize with her as she discovers her own strength and integrity.
Followers is definitely not a casual read for a relaxing Saturday afternoon. It prompts us to reflect on identity, self-worth and why fame matters so much, maybe too much to us. The way I feel towards this book is similar to how Orla regards Floss by the end of the book – it’s a literary frenemy. Followers refuses to give you the easy satisfaction you want, and in fact, the end was hard to read. However, it prompted me to really think about why I’m so obsessed with random people’s lives, rather than focusing on my own. This novel has weaknesses, but the message it’s trying to convey outweighs those problems, making it a worthwhile read for all of you dystopian-fiction lovers out there.