A part of me really wants to praise the hell out of this book for so many reasons, many of which are legit and other reviewers agree with. It has an incredible setting you can’t get enough of, a beautifully poignant writing niche, lovable romances and charismatic characters (who are ethnically diverse) as well as a brilliant build-up to a shocking ending. However, there are a couple of things that keep it from being a masterpiece, and one character that really irks me the more I think about him.
Don’t get me wrong: Katherine McGee’s “The Thousandth Floor” is a really, really great novel. It’s a well-written young adult story about friendships, the impact of differing social classes and how identity is shaped by your environment. Heck, the romances in this are among some of the best I’ve seen on a while. When it gets things well, it gets them done wonderfully, but when it comes to other elements, well…I’ll save it for later.
In the year 2118, Manhattan Island is transformed into a giant mega-city called the Tower, a super-skyscraper that stands two and a half miles high and is comprised of (what else?) one thousand floors filled with hundreds of millions of citizens (they even have clever terminology with the upper floors called upTower and lower floors as downTower) living in either poverty, wealth or both.
The novel literally starts with an unknown teenage girl suddenly committing suicide by jumping from the thousandth floor, and begins two months prior to the beginning of the school year, where we’re introduced to our main characters.
Avery Fuller is a teenage girl who literally lives on top of the world, with the highest penthouse on the thousandth floor, has a huge group of friends, is genetically engineered with unbelievable beauty, and is the daughter of a tycoon whose influence reaches all across the Tower and beyond. However, her life is not perfect until her not biological older brother, named Atlas, returns home after disappearing for an entire year and she yearns to have a secret relationship with him.
Then there’s Leda Cole, whose one night stand with Atlas before his disappearance led to her becoming a drug addict and eventually in rehab. Now clean and looking for some answers on Atlas’ reappearance while partying with her circle of friends, she begins dating him and hires a mysterious hacker to spy on the Fullers.
Enter said hacker, a downTower teenage boy named Watt Bakradi. Born into an Iranian family and in the slums of the Tower in need of cash, Watt is a teenage prodigy who uses a supercomputer (which is extremely illegal to have in this world) called Nadia to help with his social life and his hacking jobs. Remember the Mexican-American boy from “Genius: The Game” and Cortana from Halo? Imagine those two teaming up, but on steroids. With Nadia’s aide and Leda’s request, Watt is forced to spy on Avery Fuller and her brother while developing a crush on the girl at the top of the world.
Meanwhile, Eris Dodd-Radson is another friend of Avery and Leda’s whose world of glamor is torn apart when it’s discovered she’s not her father’s daughter. This results in Eris and her mother moving downTower into the slums to give her father breathing space for this shocking news. From fate and circumstance, Eris meets a spunky and street smart girl next door to her named Mariel, and forms a friendship that blooms into a romance. Now torn between the world she was born to and her girlfriend’s life, Eris must choose between either.
And lastly, our other main character is Rylin Myers, whose life as a poor maid for the upTower elite and the legal guardian of her little sister is shaken after meeting her latest employer. Said employer is a misunderstood boy named Cord (and Eris’ recent ex), who formed a romance with her and leaves Rylin torn between her life below and the life she’s discovered above. Combine all of their stories over a period of two months, who will be the unfortunate soul to fall to their death? And how will this affect the outcomes of their dreams and desires? Did someone decide to make a TV series even before it was released into bookstores?
Why don’t I talk about what makes this novel work out very well first? Because honestly, there’s a ton that work and make this book stand out among others. Going in, “The Thousandth Floor” gave me a “Great Gatsby” vibe, seeing how it glamorized the sense of wealth all our characters experienced. In almost every scene, there’s a character interacting with unbelievably creative innovations of the future. There’s a girl trying on dresses using 3D mapping, a guy who owns automobiles that are now extinct, and a series of characters who give gifts such as color-changing clothes, expensive fashion and jewelry from across the globe, or an entire apartment made of glass ceiling walls and floors.
I don’t know where McGee got the ideas for these settings in the Tower, but they make you feel like you’re there with the main characters. Her terminology is close to being nearly poetic, almost on-par with the likes of Kyell Gold, Marie Lu and many others. From each word, each paragraph and the vocabulary she possesses, you feel like you’re exploring a luxurious hotel from Tomorrow Land or Abu Dubai.
However, underneath all of the glamorous fashion and over-the-top parties there are complicated relationships, secrets, scandals and façades that come between the extreme rich and the extreme poor. Other books tend to put that as the background while “The Thousandth Floor” puts it in the foreground, and it works very well. Even if you’re dirt poor or filthy rich, there’s this sense of community in both worlds you want to live in. To be honest, while the writing style of Katherine McGee’s helps flesh out this world she’s created and gives the Tower varying personalities that make it stand out, the stories themselves range from either remarkable or something we’ve seen before.
Don’t get me wrong: the characters are interesting for the most part and the author perfectly showcases their dilemmas, their wants and the things they yearn for the Tower does not have. However, some of the characters and their stories are not that interesting compared to others and their interactions in the novel.
For example, the romance that blooms between Eris and Mariel is unexpected yet welcome to read and experience. I didn’t expect “The Thousandth Floor” to have the Tower be incredibly LGBT-friendly, but it isn’t a big deal because none of the characters make it a big deal; all they see is Eris being part of another relationship.
And may I be honest here and say that she and Mariel are too wonderful? I have no problems believing they’re in love, and the way Eris opens up to her and becomes part of her world, a part of the Tower she looked down upon (ba-dum-tish), is wonderful to read. You feel how likeable Mariel is as a character, and feel how much she grows on Eris to change her perspective on the upTower and downTower residents. It’s almost like Kory and Samaki in a kind of way except with a lesbian couple in the future.
Watt is easily adorkable to enjoy as a quirky but handsome hacker (whose interactions with his illegal best friend Nadia are funny), the transformation of Leda is built up well (I honestly cannot say much more without spoilers), but then there’s the romance between Rylin and her employer Cord. While I do like them and want to see them together, their roles really don’t play much until the very end of the story. In all seriousness, it feels like a spinoff rather than an integral part of the overall story.
But then we get into incredibly uncomfortable territory with semi-incest between Avery and Atlas. Granted, they make no qualms that what Avery and Atlas feel are taboo and it’s (sometimes overly) confirmed that he’s adopted, but it still comes across as creepy. Not that it’s a bad thing to have in here since “The Thousandth Floor” is all about discovering the secrets and scandal underneath all the futuristic glamor, though it may makes some readers too uncomfortable to give it a read.
However, my biggest issue comes down to one character who surprisingly doesn’t
have a main character status: Atlas Fuller himself. This is a young man who went around the world and saw things no Tower resident would ever see with their own eyes, a guy who wasn’t born into wealth but grew up on the thousandth floor of a tower so massive it makes Trump Tower look like a pothole, but I do not remember one single thing about this guy other than he’s…nice. Sometimes deceitful, but mostly nice.
I know some of you are out there thinking, “Why is it a big deal if he’s bland? Isn’t he a side character?” Yes, but that’s not the point: the point is that this guy is the entire reason for Leda’s rehab experience, Avery’s attitude, Watt’s spying on everybody and everything else happening yet he doesn’t have a coherent personality other than being nice and attractive. This is a character who should be interesting, but isn’t.
Still, that doesn’t dampen the spirit and imagination this novel has. While I cannot say it’s a complete masterpiece or a game-changer for young adult novels, it does what it does best and the elements that work well work very well. Written in the prose of a “Gossip Girl” episode yet having good humor and heart with the technological innovation of the 22nd Century, Katherine McGee’s “The Thousandth Floor” is a novel that makes you want to reach for the sky and witness the view of a hotel penthouse.
Hmmm, it still makes me wonder how they can make a TV show out of this.
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