Book Review: Retro by Sofía Lapuente and Jarrod Shusterman
By Doreen SheridanFebruary 10, 2023
Luna Valero Iglesias has never been one of the popular kids at El Dorado High School, and that’s just fine by her. She’s not even jealous that one of her best friends, Samantha Darby, runs with the Goldens, as the elite clique is known. Luna, Samantha and their other friend Mimi have more than enough fun together whenever Samantha can escape the beck and call of the rest of her moneyed and beautiful crew.
So when Samantha lets Luna take the fall for a terrible thing, Luna is both blindsided and infuriated. It isn’t just the damage to Luna’s reputation that has her so upset. Samantha could clear up this very expensive mistake by speaking up, but chooses not to. Enraged, Luna decides to erase every trace of Samantha from her life, including digitally. It’s while going through her phone, deleting pictures and other media of her now former best friend, that Luna discovers an incendiary video Samantha accidentally recorded on the wrong device:
I never was supposed to have that video, but there I was marveling at it–as if I had my very own Picasso in the palm of my hands. Beautiful and grotesque all at the same time.
The world needed to see this work of art.
If I was going to get scapegoated and lose all the money in my bank account, then the school deserved to see Samantha for who she really was. She wouldn’t get to pretend that she’s so perfect anymore.
Luna uploads the video to the hottest social media site, Limbo, using an anonymous account and tagging Mimi. She doesn’t expect for it to go viral, or for the rest of the school to start bullying Samantha as a result. When things take a near-fatal turn, a distraught Luna begs the Limbo help desk to take down the video’s now many remixed copies.
After hearing her plight, Limbo decides to do one better than merely scrubbing the humiliating clips. With the agreement of Luna’s high school, they decide to sponsor a competition to help reinforce the concepts of kindness and connection between otherwise social-media-saturated teens. Students who manage to give up all technology developed after the turn of the 21st century and “Go Retro” for the duration of the challenge will win a full-ride scholarship to the college of their choice.
Even if she weren’t stricken with guilt over what happened to Samantha, Luna would leap at the chance to win this extremely valuable reward. Business at her family’s movie theater isn’t what it used to be, and not having to worry about how to pay for college would be a relief for both her and her widowed mother. But a classmate who decides against participating provides her with a much needed reality check:
Suddenly I was hit with panic.
Miranda’s question was asked with such conviction that it allowed doubt to creep in. What am I really getting myself into? I hadn’t thought about the consequences of going without modern technology. But I knew deep down that this was what I needed. It was the only way to begin to correct what had happened. I was being offered a chance to escape this world. A chance to be “young, wild, and free.”
I finally started breathing out the pressure that had clenched my chest these past days.
Even if this challenge was some publicity stunt–I didn’t care.
At first, going Retro is indeed as fun and liberating as Luna hopes. She even makes unexpected new friends, while bonding further with Mimi. But as people start abruptly disappearing and strange things start happening in the woods, Luna has to face the fact that something sinister is also going on. When Mimi is the next competitor to vanish, Luna will have to lean hard on her faith in both herself and her newfound friends if she hopes to stand a chance at recovering Mimi and exposing the truth behind what’s happening to their town.
This young adult thriller is very of-the-moment, skipping agilely between current pop cultural references and those of the late 1900s. It raises important issues of social media dependence and consumer responsibility that young readers may not already be cognizant of, in addition to sympathetically presenting the plight of people dependent on fickle work visas to keep their families together. There were parts that felt less than thought out–for example, there’s no way those terms and conditions would be enforced on a minor, even one who’d gotten her mother to sign a permission slip allowing it–but the overall aim of the book is worthy, if a little heavy-handed. As an adult reader, it was also fun to re-experience the 90s through Luna’s gaze, and to watch as she pulled her town together for a common cause.
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