Reviews /

Influential

Authored by Amara Sage
Published by Faber & Faber

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Influential: Amara Sage’s hard-hitting debut novel offers an original slant on the perils of social media by writing from the perspective of a teenage influencer. 17-year-old Almond Brown is internet royalty: thanks to her influencer mother Eve, her whole life has been lived online and she is expected to keep her millions of followers happy with wholesome selfies, stories and vlogs promoting different brands. But over the course of the novel, she becomes increasingly disaffected with this lifestyle and tries to find ways of taking control of her life.

Sage does a good job of showing the downsides of a lifestyle to which many teenagers might aspire. She addresses all the talking points you would expect in a novel about social media – Photoshop and filters, trolls and cyberbullies, deepfake pornography and cancel culture. Sage is unflinching in showing the effects of these on Almond and her fellow influencers, including alcohol abuse, excoriation disorder, self-harm and suicidal ideation, as well as difficulty in building and sustaining friendships and relationships offline.

At times, this novel comes across as rather heavy-handed – several characters feel like caricatures, especially PR manager Spencer and rival influencer Celeste Shawcross. The book is perhaps also a little on the long side – some sections such as the backstory about Eve’s mother and how Eve became an influencer don’t add all that much to the story. Nonetheless, this remains an engaging read and could pave the way for some valuable discussions with older teenagers about our relationship with technology. In my experience, most teenagers are already aware of the main issues associated with social media (far more so than their teachers!) so the specific challenges Almond faces may be of less interest to them than how she navigates these. I would be particularly keen to discuss how she goes from feeling powerless at the start of the novel to becoming empowered by the end, and which choices have the most positive effect on her mental health.

Overall, this is a timely and thought-provoking book suitable for readers in KS4 and above.