Book Title: CONSPIRACY 365 - JANUARY
Author: Gabrielle Lord
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
No of Pages: 185
On New Year's Eve Cal is chased down the street by a staggering sick man with a deadly warning.
They killed your father. They'll kill you. You must survive the next 365 days!"
Conspiracy 365 is a series of 12 novels, released one per month, following the story of 15 year old Callum Ormond. Callum's life is turned upside down after the death of his father from a mysterious virus. Before his death his father has provided clues to the mystery of his virus, and whatever it is in the background of the family that Callum needs to know about, but it's not until he is directly threatened himself that he's forced to find the answer.
These books are targeted at kids between 10 and 15 and whilst they are obviously meant specifically for young boys, they would work equally well for girls. But we were lucky enough to receive January-May as review books, and we're definitely going to be going out and buying the rest of the year as they become available. We're both reading these books, so we'll both be commenting on them giving the girl and boy perspective (albeit from people "slightly" older than the target group!).
Conspiracy 365 is an interesting approach to young adult fiction, combining a web site with competitions and previews and a monthly release of a novel in serialised form. Each novel ends in a cliff hanger which, by the chat on the website, has been an outstanding success in getting readers hooked onto the story.
The story follows Callum being chased by a number of groups all intent on discovering some secret, although Callum himself is trying at the same time to figure out what the secret is they all want.
In the January instalment, Callum finds himself almost drowned after a boating accident, kidnapped, and a fugitive after being wrongly accused of an attack on his family. So Callum, with only his friend Boges believing him, hides out and tries to put the scant facts together about the Ormond family history and what it means to Callum and his family today.
There was only one technical issue in this that I had a problem with, and that was the use of the mobile phone. I kept wondering why the police did not trace Callum via his mobile, or at least get access to his call record to figure out he was in constant contact with his friend. In an otherwise brilliant story, this kept nagging at me.
This series is a very interesting, layered idea, obviously designed to try to make reading more appealing to media-savy consumers - particularly boys. The novels are supported by a website, membership cards, online media and so on. Regardless of the supporting environment, the quality of the story-telling has to hold up in order to grab and keep any reader's attention, although in this case, the supporting multimedia environment is very nicely done.
And the storytelling does hold up. There are tricks and methods used in these books that an adult reader might feel slightly less comfortable with (cliffhanger endings, personal jeopardy and so on), but for young readers, used to a TV world, would probably seem perfectly reasonable and very very appealing.
Callum is on the run from the end of this book, supported and aided in his quest by his best friend. The quest combines an excellent level of physicality as well as online / technological research - the acts spread across both boys in a very realistic manner. Callum's survival living wild in the city, being pursued by people whose motives he doesn't understand is very tense, and scary enough to really give the reader a sense of peril.
The overall sense of tension built around Callum's fate (and in my case a big worry about his best friend), the intricate nature of the quest and the clever layout of clues, along with the way in which Callum sticks to his quest regardless of the amount of pressure placed upon him, well it was excellent.
Roll on February.