Unplugged and Unpopular – Mat Heagerty

Illustrations – Tintin Pantoja & Mike Amante

Spoilers Ahead!

Erin Song lives in Culver City, California, with her parents. She hasn’t managed to crack the popularity code yet.

While her best friend Cody doesn’t care about popularity, Erin does. This results in her going against her better judgement and helping the most popular girl in school cheat off her during an exam.

When they get caught Erin’s parents ground her. Her punishment? No access to anything with a screen, so basically her entire existence.

When she’s no longer attached to her phone Erin begins to notice things she never has before, like aliens!

It quickly becomes clear that the aliens haven’t come in peace and it’s up to Erin, her grandmother and twin librarians, Joe and Charlie, to save the world.

I enjoyed the illustrations and use of colour in this graphic novel. I particularly liked it when a noise was mentioned and words to describe it lined up with what was happening, for example, “breaking glass” was spelled with shards of broken glass.

This story takes place in the near future; Erin’s grandmother is pictured as a young woman in the 1980’s and her parents grew up sans internet. While I love that the majority of the heroes live in retirement homes, this story also perpetuates the myth that older people and technology don’t mix. Besides Erin, who’s not using technology because she’s grounded, the only other people in the story who aren’t glued to their devices are elderly.

I don’t think librarians will particularly like the comment about how the internet has resulted in libraries no longer being used. This is certainly not my experience as a frequent library user. All of the librarians I know are very tech savvy and I see people of all ages in my local library.

There are clues early on in the story about what’s really happening if you pay attention to what’s being said and details in the pictures. I loved that the president in this near future version of America is female and I had fun picking up on the background details, like the movie poster advertising Jaws 26. This naturally reminded me of when Doc’s Delorean arrived in 2015 and Marty McFly encountered the hologram shark from Jaws 19.

I really liked the points this story makes about popularity and how invaluable grandparents are in kids’ lives. This graphic novel also includes not so subtle commentary about the overuse of technology, with people so focused on the screen in front of them that they miss out on the reality that’s happening all around them. Considering that this story’s target audience are growing up surrounded by the glow of screens, it makes a good point.

My childhood would have been vastly different if I’d had access to the technology kids have on hand today and while I know I would have loved the internet as a kid I’m consistently grateful that social media didn’t exist back in the Dark Ages of my childhood.

While the majority of the story flowed well for me, I couldn’t figure out how Erin’s grandmother’s retirement home suddenly became an electronics store. Was this somehow part of the mind control? I reread this story to try to make sense of this but I’m still not clear about it.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Oni Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

After Erin Song’s parents ban her from using her phone, TV, Internet, and all her screens, she soon discovers mysterious, strange creatures and must foil their plot to take over Earth in this hilarious sci-fi graphic novel for tweens.

Erin Song lives in a digital world. Everyone has a phone, a tablet, a computer – more screens than you can count. Even with a world of information at her fingertips, Erin can’t figure out the secret to popularity at her clique-y junior high school. So when uber-popular Wendy asks for help cheating on a test, Erin jumps at the opportunity. This could be her big break! Unfortunately, she gets caught, and her parents ban her from all her devices. Suddenly, Erin Song is the only girl in the world who’s not allowed to look at a screen.

And that’s when Erin notices something funny: small, furry aliens making humans disappear with a weird device Erin’s never seen before. No one else notices them, though – except Erin’s grandmother and two old men who run the local library. They’ve discovered that the aliens are using screens to control the human race, tricking them into thinking they aren’t really there – and that anyone who’s been abducted never existed. 

Now it’s up to Erin and her grandmother to save the day! But without technology on their side, do they stand a chance?

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