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(Content warning: The book included numerous instances of teen abuse, PTSD, prison violence, and strong language. This is considered YA, but it can be very triggering for some. Please read at your own risk. Thank you.)
It’s rare I ever review stories as dark as this, but it’s also rare I review a story that’s as gripping as this as well. Today’s story is The Loop by Ben Oliver. You can buy it here. Despite being YA, this is not an easy read for the younger end of the YA category. For those who have ever feared (or even experienced) incarceration might want to keep that in mind should you ever check this book out, but for those who are seeking that YA dystopia mixed with Prison Break, Blade Runner, and a bit of 28 Days Later, then this one is for you. So let’s see what’s in store.
No one escapes from the Loop
Luka Kane is one of the few young kids forced to spend their lives in The Loop, a futuristic prison system filled with means of torture, cruelty, and illegal experimentation. Many of them exist because of minor crimes, or crimes they had never committed. Yet with the fear of an oncoming revolt, the prisoners formulate a plan to escape, assuming madness doesn’t consume them first.
One hell of a book, let me tell you. A lot went on from start to finish. I should mention the chapter layout being organized by days, rather than having concrete chapter numbers. This means chapters occasionally (towards the beginning and the end) are often either one word or one sentence. I have harped on the uselessness of making short chapters in the past, but it works here, because it feels like a logbook or a diary of sorts. Hearing Luka endure the horrors of the Loop.
Luka is a very strongwilled hero and it’s clear that he understands the gravity of the situation he’s in. He’s falsely imprisoned, the prison system is beyond corrupt, even immoral that would make the US prison system look like an innocent summer camp. Release only has two options, being sent to a court to be executed, or sign up for the Delay, a type of Stay of Execution, except it’s a 50/50 shot that anyone comes out alive. If they aren’t dead, madness consumes them and something in the Loop will kill them, like drones that shoot toxic darts.
The only benefit of using the Delay is that, should you survive somehow, your sentencing is delayed for months (until they feel like changing it, because reasons). The chaotic nature of the Loop keeps the story engaging until the end where anything and everything can go wrong in a heartbeat. There was honestly little reprieve during this and rarely were there moments where Luka can relax for a moment. When death can happen at any moment, even standing still might be a death sentence.
It keeps me engaged because at any moment, something will go wrong for the hero and his fellow inmates. It goes as far as a heart implant that will detonate if the inmates act up, and when it does, the pressure is so high that the trigger for it will kill him if he doesn’t keep the button held, which not only ruins his mental state of being a literal bomb, but ruins his physical body as the strain of holding the button wears on him.
While the book definitely kept me engaged, I did have some issues with it. The most egregious for me was how injuries and medicine were portrayed. Without spoiling anything significant, Luka, in the chaos of a power outage, searches for something to help a friend who not only went insane, but has their arm dismembered and has to find something to put her under control so she can settle down. The length of time it takes for Luka to find this was hard for me to accept, even as far as suspension of disbelief is concerned.
It takes Luka what could have been hours to find something to help her. Honestly, she would have died of blood loss even with a tourniquet on her severed arm. This wasn’t the only time it happened, but even with his friend being a more modified human (called an Alt in the story) unless they were completely robotic, which they weren’t as far as I knew, it would have been devastating to go off for several hours just to find something to calm her madness so Luka can help her.
Another point is how eerily current the past history is. It takes place 300 years in the future, and since then, it is stated that World War III happened and ended up with a nuclear war occurring. I would imagine this story was written at most a few years ago before being published, but considering all that’s happened recently, this hit a little close to home. Out of all the possible future scenarios, having a nuclear dead zone after a Third World War and installing a world government seems far more likely than anything else. It was possibly the most jarring part of the story because it could very well happen. I hope it doesn’t, but I’m sure the author wasn’t anticipating such a thing to occur.
The Loop is a powerful, gripping story that keeps you locked in and never lets go. If you’re looking for a wonderful YA story with a prison break theme, this is one of the best ones out there. It really makes me want more.
That’s all for today. Take care, stay safe, and remember, the inn is always open.