Insignia

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Insignia Book Poster Image
Complex, thrilling start to thoughtful dystopian trilogy.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 5 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

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 & Representations

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.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byKurt H. August 7, 2017

Well written, but...

Loved the story line and the author has a good writing style. Listened to this as an audiobook during a family driving trip. Be aware that the sexuality ratin... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bymovie freak15 June 20, 2013

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, e... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byJoan__ June 26, 2014

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 c... Continue reading

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?

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