Insignia

 
Complex, thrilling start to thoughtful dystopian trilogy.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Teen readers will find much to think about, including the advantages and risks that technology brings to society. Insignia will also make them think about the power that corporations have over our lives -- and our political system. May inspire fans new to the genre to check out similar books, such as Ender's Game.

Positive messages

There's a message here about being loyal and staying in control of your own mind. These themes are sure to be further explored in the rest of the series.

Positive role models

Tom is driven by his own desire "to be important" and doesn't spend much time thinking about the moral implications of the war he's agreed to fight in. But while he makes impulsive and sometimes cruel decisions, he's a loyal person who fights hard to protect the people he loves. He also strives hard to make sure he's true to himself -- and his own brain.

Violence

Tom experiences psychological trauma and humiliation as his cyber-enhanced brain is manipulated by powerful forces, including one of his commanders. Tom 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 the participants actually feel pain. A past genocide is explained, as well as experimental testing on soldiers.

Sex

Some flirtation between Tom and another teen fighter, who uses her good looks to manipulate him. When Tom meets an enemy combatant, they start what could be a deeper romance -- and even share a kiss in virtual reality. One of Tom's friends loses privileges after sneaking out to see his girlfriend, and two others start dating.

Language

Some name-calling, such as "evil wench," and other words like "god" and "sexy."

Consumerism

An overall anti-consumer message: Part of the plot is that the world has been taken over by corporations who control the food and water supply and more. 

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A bad guy smokes cigars and offers Tom a drink.

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.

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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?

QUALITY
 

This kick-off 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. There's a lot of plotting here, and it will take a mature reader to both follow all the various storylines and understand the often-chilling subtext. 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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

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
Number of pages:464
Publisher's recommended age(s):13 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Quality

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 17 years old Written bymovie freak15 June 20, 2013
age 10+
 

Great Science Fiction book

I really liked this book. There was basically no language and it kept my attention. I coudn't put it down. Most Sci-Fi books have a lot of language, sex, etc. but this doesn't. I think any kid could read it. I think adults would enjoy it as well.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byJoan__ June 26, 2014
age 11+
 

One of the best

I thought this book was addicting and I couldn't put it down. I don't think there is any age limit. Kids of all ages would love it, and I say adults could also sit and enjoy this book as I have. It is definitely one of my new favorite books.
Teen, 16 years old Written byThe.Unaden June 23, 2014
age 13+
 

Absolutely addicting!

It is a truly thrilling book that had me on the edge of my seat. I also put this is my other review about "Vortex", I won't say my favorite parts because I'm afraid all of my favorite parts of "Insignia" will be spoiling... But, I could literally NOT put this book down. I decided to read a few chapters a day, and ended up finishing the book in 2 and a half days. It was the exact same way with "Vortex". I really want everyone who hears about this book to read it! I seriously can;t wait for this book explode and be famous! I just know it will become as famous as Divergent. I actually, truly and honestly, like this series more than Divergent! So, read it!

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