Monday, February 13, 2012

Scored by Lauren McGlaughlin

Tuesday, and you cannot concentrate. You know they will be posted today, and you know your entire future depends on them. The scores. Not scores from a test—scores from THE test. The one you are living. The one that measures, using ever present cameras and biometric feedback devices, you. Score in the 90s and see your college and career prospects crystallize before you. But let your score drop and see your future plans crack, because employers receive these scores, and the scores are science. No one questions them. Well, almost no one.

Some kids are unscored. Those at the bottom end, whose parents are too poor to pay Score Corporation for the service of being scored. And a few at the top end, whose parents are rich enough to not need a score. Like Diego, whose mother is a top lawyer and one of the few voices opposing the changes scoring is having on this post-Great Recession American economy. But what is Diego doing at the public school, mixing with the scored kids, the clamdiggers like Imani?

For Imani, her high score meant a way to pay for college, something her working-class family could not afford. Not anymore, not in this economic brave new world. But you have to be vigilant—any small thing could drop your score. Even associating with the wrong crowd, which by definition is anyone whose score is below yours. You are supposed to socialize only with your score group, those in the same percentile range. Even if one of those with a score below yours is your best friend.

A class assignment and a scholarship opportunity push Diego and Imani’s lives together, and they reconsider their attitudes toward the unscored and scored, respectively. And in Imani’s case, her attitude toward being scored at all.

Archimedes once said that if he could build a screw large enough, he could turn the world. In Lauren McLaughlin’s novel Scored,, Score Corporation feels that they have created an algorithm large enough to turn our world. To equalize society. To create a society where everyone truly does have an equal opportunity to succeed. All you have to do is score highly. No one knows exactly how the algorithm works, but everyone knows the five elements of fitness: peer group, impulse control, congruity, diligence, and rapport.

McLaughlin has given us a thoughtful, timely update on the dystopian genre. As “education reform” comes to involve more and more testing, and our surveillance society continues to grow, her grim panopticon seems more possible than not. A worthy take on the classic dilemma of freedom versus security, McLaughlin’s novel should grab guy readers despite the main character, Imani, being a girl. One almost senses that McLaughlin planned for this, as Imani loves to drive her boat recklessly and her female best friend is a top-notch gearhead. And a gripping later scene involves an amped-up scooter chase through sand dunes. The romantic tension between Diego and Imani is mostly subjugated to the action and philosophical discussions, which may dismay some, but as a guy reader, I was thankful.

I am not sure if reading this book will earn you AR points or increase your reading comprehension score, or if suggesting you read it will show that I as your teacher have added value to your education, but it will make you think about the role of the individual in society. And question whether people can and should be reduced to numbers.

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