Transfixion, by J. Giambrone

I received a PDF copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review:

What happens when anyone who looks at a TV becomes a brainwashed killer? That’s the premise of Transfixion. As family members turn on one another and armed ‘dupes’ roam the streets, a group of teenagers (and their school bus driver) take up shelter in a local high school with one goal: survival. As they deal with the basic questions – where to find food, how to avoid being killed by the dupes – they come into conflict with one another. Killing the dupes in self-defence is the easy option, yet it is impossible to ignore the fact that they are, as their nickname suggests, duped; underneath the brainwashing they’re real people who would never in a million years harm their neighbours. The novel forces the reader to think about when – and if – violence in the name of defence is okay, and about the consequences of that choice. While many of her peers advocate for survival at all costs, the protagonist, Kaylee Colton, stands firmly on the side of non-violence, eschewing weapons and instead striving to deprogram the dupes, not kill them.

At its core, the novel is a thought-provoking science fiction thriller. At the same time, however, Giambrone weaves in elements of paranormal fiction. After her death at the start of the book, Kaylee’s mother appears to her in fuzzy visions, offering advice and support. Around the same time as her first appearance, Kaylee mysteriously loses her voice. This provides practical difficulties for her as she struggles to fit in in a group of aggressive teenagers, but it is also deeply symbolic. Kaylee represents the voiceless victims of war, those caught up in a conflict but without the ability to speak out.

Although I really enjoyed this book, I was left wishing there was more. Who created the brainwashing TV transmission? For what purpose? Kaylee never learns the answers to these questions and, as the entire story is told from her perspective, neither do the readers. To an extent, it’s not relevant to the novel’s central theme, but I think exploring the mindset that considers it okay to invade the sanctity of people’s minds and force them to commit murder is relevant to the story’s overall exploration of violence versus pacifism. I don’t think Giambrone plans a sequel, but if there is one I hope it addresses this aspect more.

Overall, however, this book has the perfect mix of heart-thudding action and brain-wrenching moral themes, and is a very enjoyable and satisfying read.


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