In The Thousandth Floor, Katharine McGee has written a young adult science fiction novel that is sophisticated, edgy, and sexy. Driven by five excellently crafted narrators, with the story’s events unfolding in a spectacular setting, the book is both a fast-paced thriller and an emotionally-raw portrayal of the timeless need humans have to be find someone they trust to love them.
In the year 2118, the world has been dramatically reshaped by (invisible to the reader) environmental events, and the cities of the twenty-first century no longer exist. Constructed over the last century, The Tower was built to house the residents of New York City: a thousand floor building into which all of “Old New York” has been transported. Massive in size, the structure has been constructed to mimic the outside world, which is now too hostile for day-to-day living. Inside the Tower are hologram-generated views, manufactured weather, fake sunlight, genetically modified plants, a building-wide transportation system that mimics public transportation. In order to preserve the comforts and privileges of the rich, the Tower has been segregated by floor. The lower floors, dirty and crowded, are home to the poor; the middle floors are the dreaded suburban section of the Tower; and the upper floors — lush, glamorous, filled with every possible luxury –are reserved for the most wealthy families. For its residents, the Tower is where they spend every moment of their lives, with trips to the outside dangerous and expensive.
McGee’s 2118 is technologically and medically advanced; with hi-tech methods of communication and travel, as well as a long list of new temptations: enhanced social media outlets, VR gaming, designer drugs, alcohol, and easy to find sex. Perhaps it is the fact that these indulgences are more readily available; perhaps it is the fact that the social stigma surrounding them has dulled; or it might be a result of the quasi-safety of the cloistered life in the Tower, but the teens in the story indulge in a myriad of risky behaviors in a manner that is socially acceptable. The freedom to behave like adults makes their lives seem far more sophisticated than their age would suggest and makes their stories far from childish.
Enter our five teenage narrators — Avery, Leda, Eris, Watt, and Rylin — who are all living in the Tower. Living on the 1000th floor of the Tower is Avery Fuller, part of one the wealthiest families in world. Avery is a stunningly beautiful girl who was genetically modified by her wealthy parents to be flawless. Adored by all and worshiped for her beauty and money, Avery fears showing anyone her emotional flaws, and as a result she keeps a desperate secret from the world. She wants to find a boy who can see beyond her manufactured perfection and love her for who she really is.
Leda Cole’s family is newly wealthy and she navigates her new life in the glitzy world of the Upper Tower with less ease than her peers. After an illicit affair which she must keep secret, she develops a drug and alcohol addiction to deal with her heartache and insecurities. Hopeful that a romance with a boy she has loved for years will pull her out of her downward spiral, Leda becomes more and more desperate to win his love.
Eris Dodd-Radon is Avery’s rich and beautiful side-kick, whose happiness stems from her father’s endless supply of money and the sexual attention she garners from the most desirable boys and girls in the Tower. When her parents secrets are reveals and their family’s fortunes shift and she finds herself without the armor of money and power, she becomes more vulnerable and insecure than she ever imagined possible.
Watt Bakradi is a super-genius living on the lower floors, who puts his computer skills to use helping his family pay their bills and saving for college. He is in business of stealing — and profiting from — other people’s secrets, and he must walk a fine line between legality and profitability if he has any hope to move up in the world. When he falls in love with an Upper Floor girl, he must decide how many of her secrets he can exploit to win her attention without losing her.
Finally, we meet Rylin Myers, an orphaned teenage girl living at the very bottom of the Tower, supporting her younger sister with a series of terrible jobs and — at times — illegal activities. She wants more than anything to provide her sister a good life but she cannot help frequently unwinding with drugs, sex, and drinking. Her financial desperation leads her to lie and steal, even though it might not only threaten her chances at love, but her sister’s future.
As the story unfolds, the lives of these five characters draw closer and closer together, and the lies they tell one another grow larger and more complex. McGee writes a thrilling page-turner (I finished it in just a few hours!) that is filled with teenage characters who are — despite their futuristic setting and high-tech advancements — achingly real, with a yearning for love and acceptance that is universal.