A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Influence is a window on the supercharged world of internet celebrity, and a road map to its many hotspots and minefields. For kids seeking to break into the scene, it's a crash course in turning yourself into product, and what happens when you do. For parents trying to make sense of what's second nature for their kids, it's a sometimes appalling but informative introduction to an alien world.
Co-author Lilia Buckingham co-founded an anti-cyberbullying organization, Positively Social, and there's a strong anti-bullying message, with some horrific cautionary examples: fandoms form mobs and make death threats to perceived foes of their favorites; a teen bully in the past causes permanent maiming of her victim; family members whose cushy lifestyle depends on teens' online endorsements browbeat and manipulate them. Sane, respectful parenting is often a rarity in the influencer world, but ultimately prevails.
Positive Role Models
Sixteen-year-old Delilah, instant internet star due to her rescue of a puppy from a burning building, is dazzled to be taken under the wing of older teen influencers; they're all in way over their heads with celebrity, obsessive fans, adults trying to exploit them, and a culture of spying and backstabbing. As story unfolds, they all have good intentions, secret fears, quite a few things they'd prefer to keep quiet -- including several that would blow their carefully crafted online reality to smithereens. Fortunately, Delilah's parents have good sense -- and can deal with the fact that their kid is an emerging star in a world they didn't know existed. Numerous fans, frenemies, and family members who aren't exactly what they seem, for good and ill.
Violence & Scariness
Someone is murdered; there's no shortage of people with good reason to do the deed. Bullying is a strong theme: anti-bullying campaigns by the online services that are hotbeds of bullying, and in the past a bullying girl caused an "accident" that ended her victim's musical career. That girl herself perished in an incident that haunts one of the characters. A character's father bullies him with physical and emotional abuse.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A character sees a video of her boyfriend having sex with another influencer, his former girlfriend. A teen boy and girl share a couple of long, intense kisses, one rudely interrupted. Two teen girls kiss, with many life-changing consequences. A teen falls in love with the male partner in a revered online relationship (aka "ship") -- who in fact aren't together at all, but the world doesn't know that, so it gets complicated. In an accidental post that soon goes viral, an influencer says she thinks she's pregnant; drama ensues.
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Occasional "damn," "crap," "pissed," "s--t."
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Products & Purchases
Instagram in particular is essential to the story, and it's a rare page that doesn't have a product mention, from Twizzlers to Twitter, as it's all about influencers using all the tools to build their brands and peddle merchandise. But the extravaganza of material excess leads to a lot of trouble as sponsors take control of teens' lives and manufactured reality spins out of control, and consumerism run amok isn't seen as attractive as things unfold.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A character sees another (diabetic) character's insulin syringes and snarks "Are you on drugs?" A teen who never drinks becomes furiously upset at a party, gets falling-down drunk -- and wakes up next to a corpse. Booze flows freely at parties.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Influence, a funny and hair-raising tale of internet celebrity and unintended consequences, is a collaboration between Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars) and teen actor/online personality Lilia Buckingham, who also work together on the Brat series Crown Lake. Material excess rules the day in a glittery, over-the-top, but all too relatable world of perfect public personas, product endorsements, messy private lives, cutthroat competition -- and teen celebrities in way, way over their heads. There are some intense kissing scenes, one between two teen girls. An (entirely nonexistent in real life) internet romance takes a dramatic turn when the woman announces she's pregnant. Occasional strong language including "pissed," "crap," and "s--t." A drunken party ends badly for the guests, especially the one who gets murdered. Sixteen-year-old newbie celebrity Delilah, fortunately, has levelheaded parents doing their best to keep her safe (she's diabetic) and grounded amid the sudden changes in her life. Other teens aren't so lucky, as their parents -- some of whom live off their kids' earnings -- are controlling and bullying. Co-author Buckingham, an internet celebrity herself, is active in opposing cyberbullying, and whether the behavior results in actual murder or some lesser damage and misery, Influence is a vivid look at what can happen.
Is It Any Good?
This is a wild, fast-moving tale of relationships that aren't what they seem, scheming adults, teens with perfect personas and lots to hide, and a naive 16-year-old who gets caught in the craziness. Internet stardom is all fun, games, glitzy parties, and lucrative endorsements -- until somebody gets killed, leaving several teens with a lot of online Influence scrambling to prove they didn't do it. Here's the moment at the mall where Delilah's mom realizes her daughter has a whole life she knows nothing about:
"They peppered her with questions about how they, too, could become influencers, or Instagram stars, or at least a person who was recognizable at the Grove. Delilah deliberated carefully before answering, aware that her impressionable sister and skeptical mother were listening in. 'I think you should just be exactly who you are,' she said. 'Don't try to fit in a box.'
"'And saving a puppy from a burning shed wouldn't hurt, either,' one of the fans cheered.
"The group blew kisses as they left. Delilah turned to her mom and sister, a triumphant grin on her face. Her mother had her arms crossed, but she didn't seem angry. In fact, Bethany finally looked like she understood the power Delilah held.
"She even looked proud."
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.