Samuel Stillhouse is a 17-year-reold living in a rundown council estate in England. He lives with his aunt, his mother having died in circumstances the reader only learns of later in the book. Sam is a good student of English. His teacher, Miss Crail, enters Sam as one of five students for an unusual project named Hyde.
A software system has been developed for the purpose of analysing Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Each of the project participants must go online to the system, adopt a named avatar and post a photo. They are then presented with Facebook status updates from a group of other supposedly fictional participants, characters generated by the software.
These updates, somewhat surprisingly, relate to life issues for people of the participants’ age rather than to issues arising from Stevenson’s novel. The task confronting Sam and the other participants is to compose the most venomous and wounding responses they can devise to the Facebook updates. Fortunately the targets for these barbed comments are fictional characters rather than real-life individuals. Or are they?
Gradually the Hyde project becomes addictive for the participants. They stay up all night playing the game, seeking to gain a competitive advantage over the other players. The photos they uploaded start to change, becoming mysteriously more malignant. What lies at the end of this sinister path is a shocking denouement.
Sam and a mysterious girl he encounters must face the challenge of defeating an evil plot.
For books such as Hussey’s, the main test is whether they induce what Coleridge termed the willing suspension of disbelief. Is the reader convinced? Hussey pitches his sinister yarn against the notorious background of cyber bullying. The reader’s awareness of the dangers of such trolls and their works makes Hussey’s task feasible. My main misgiving about this book is that for young readers, even in the 14+ age group, some of the physical violence is gratuitous.
There are however young readers who may take a cavalier attitude to cyber bullying, thinking those who suffer it to be weak. This book may change their minds, a worthy aim.