We live in a world where, in many cases, numbers dictate who we are. It starts in kindergarten when IQ tests are administered. Travelling through grade school, those numbers become how many words per minute the child can read and how accurately a Mad Minute math test can be completed. Heading into middle school and high school, the focus shifts to percentage scores and GPAs defined to the hundredth of a point. Throughout the years of schooling, throw in mandatory state testing as required by No Child Left Behind, and a shot or two at ACT and SAT scores. Add all of those numbers up and what you get is a judgment on most any kid in America.
Looking at society from this point of view, Lauren McLaughlin’s Scored really isn’t far-fetched at all. In this young adult novel (Another one, I know! I promise a review on a different genre soon.) ScoreCorp, a national company has found a way to utilize the ubiquitous cameras monitoring Americans on a daily basis to create a scoring system for adolescents. Families are not required to enroll their students in the program, and a few of the wealthy families are privileged enough to not have to, but for most families in the not-so-distant future Massachusetts clamming community, the Score is the only chance their kids have at any semblance of upward mobility. With a high enough score, students are given automatic scholarships to college, which puts an education and future in reach of kids who would otherwise be left with whatever service-industry job they can cling to in the economically depressed region in which they live.
Imani, the protagonist of the novel, has always strived to keep her score above the scholarship line. She works hard, follows all of the rules and hopes that will be enough to earn her a scholarship to study marine biology. When the monthly score reports are posted and she drops from the mid-90’s to the 60’s, she realizes that her friendship with Cady is the problem. With only a month before final scores are posted and lifetime trajectories are set in stone, Imani knows she must do something to get her score back to its previous standing.
When the opportunity to enter a scholarship essay contest is presented by a teacher, Imani thinks she may have solved all of her problems- until the teachers says she must write about why the Score is bad for society. Imani believes whole-heartedly in the score and the opportunities it affords those without monetary advantages. To write against the score is to write against everything she believes in.
Eventually, Imani is forced to turn to Diego, a wealthy, unscored classmate whose lawyer mother is famous for fighting legal battles against ScoreCorp, for help. Their relationship isn’t one of friendship, but of mutual need, as he too is entering the contest, but must write about how the Score has been beneficial to society.
The premise of Scored is one that should resonate with many young adults. Feeling constantly monitored and judged is a pretty universal part of being a teenager in America. The book has a strong foundation and delves fairly deeply into both sides of the argument towards a true meritocracy system. I appreciated the references to 1984 and Brave New World (hoping that maybe a teenager or two goes to the library and picks them up out of curiosity), as well as the snarky comment early in the book aimed at No Child Left Behind. The place where McLaughlin’s novel falls short is the unnecessary love story propagated by the relationship between Imani and Diego. I was disappointed that their intellectual connections weren’t allowed to stand on their own, but rather had to morph into romance. It would have been great to have strong female and male characters that were able to stand on their own as individuals and not need a bit of Cupid’s arrow thrown in at the end.
This young adult novel was a quick read, weighing in at just 160 pages. The story moves quickly, but has a depth uncharacteristic to such a short book. It can be read as just another dystopian novel, enjoyed and set aside without another glance. On the other hand, it would also make a great classroom novel. I can just imagine some of the great discussions that students could have about how society stratifies itself now and whether the world envisioned in the book is a step forward or a step backward. Lauren McLaughlin’s Scored earns: