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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Insignia is set in a future in which powerful corporations run the world, and many people suffer from poverty and food shortages. Teen readers will find much to think about, including the advantages and risks that technology brings to society -- and our personal lives. Selected as a trainee in a new kind of military, the main character experiences psychological trauma and humiliation as his cyber-enhanced brain is manipulated by powerful forces, including one of his commanders. He eventually helps fight a battle, but he's virtually controlling a ship in space, and there's no actual risk. In some of the virtual-reality simulations, there's death and bloodshed, including one battle in which participants actually feel pain. A past genocide is explained, as well as experimental testing on soldiers. There's some flirtation and one kiss in virtual reality and a brief offer of alcohol.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Set in a future in which large corporations -- not governments -- truly run the world, Tom, the son of compulsive gambler, provides for himself and his down-on-his luck dad by scamming virtual reality gamers in casinos. But when his crafty moves catch the attention of a general in charge of a new, bloodless kind of warfare that resembles gaming, he recruits Tom to join an elite group of Indo-American teens in training. But Tom soon learns there's a price to pay for wanting "to be important," including giving up control of his own brain.
Is it any good?
There's a lot of plotting here, and it will take a mature reader to both follow all the various story lines and understand the often-chilling subtext. This kickoff to a trilogy will certainly give teens plenty to think about, from the pros and cons of technology's growing role in our lives (and our bodies) -- to how much power corporations should have over global politics. Of course, there's plenty of fun stuff, too: Sci-fi fans will enjoy engaging virtual gaming sequences as Tom trains with his unit to learn tactics and teamwork -- sometimes appearing as wolves or characters from Camelot. Also, a programming assignment has the teens infecting one another with viruses that make them do silly things, such as bleat like sheep.
Readers who stick with Tom's story will understand his ego-driven decision to become a trainee and appreciate his growing sense of community with the other misfits in his class as he rises in rank. Even so, they'll suspect that future volumes of this fun, thrilling series will see him dismantle the same military that has turned him into a powerful weapon. A stellar start.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Insignia's dystopian world, where corporations have power over the food and water supply and have committed genocide to protect their interests. Do you think corporations could be that powerful and ruthless in real life?
How does Insignia compare with other futuristic science-fiction you've read or watched? Does this story seem more or less realistic?
What do you think about Tom having a computer implanted in his brain? Would you get an implant like that if it allowed you to speak many languages and download your homework at night -- or do you think it's too risky to surrender control of your brain?
- Author: S.J. Kincaid
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs, Robots, Science and Nature, Space and Aliens
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date: July 10, 2012
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 17
- Number of pages: 464
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.