You ever read a book that leaves you speechless? With loads much information, twists and turns that hits you so hard that you’re still trying to figure out what just happened after you’ve read the last page? Well that’s what happened to me with Mad Skills by Walter Greatshell.
Equal parts science fiction thriller and coming-of-consciousness tale, this page-turner lays bare the inanity of modern-day existence in grand style. After 17-year-old Madeline “Maddy” Grant suffers a severe brain injury, an experimental neurological treatment from the enigmatic Braintree Institute not only restores her to her former self but also advances her intelligence exponentially. When she goes home, Maddy is appalled by shallow, “suffocating” everyday human lives and is eventually sent back to the institute for re-evaluation. Eventually, she begins to realize that the institute isn’t purely benevolent, and their scientists’ experiments have downright terrifying implications. Powered by an endearing heroine (whose ingenuity and resourcefulness make MacGyver look inept), pedal-to-the-metal pacing, and generous amounts of social commentary, this science fiction thrill ride is the literary equivalent of a syringe full of adrenaline.
Ok here’s the thing, the description DOES NOT DO THE BOOK JUSTICE. I’m hoping the all caps gets this message across. It’s insane and will throw you for a loop. At least it did me.
Maddy goes from being a typical teenager to a genius, knowing how to use household items to make weapons and is able to fly a helicopter without any training. With this implant from Braintree Inc, she knows what to do and how to do it, and does it. At first she thinks things are extremely slow and dull, because she doesn’t realize she’s typing 200 words per minute and absorbing things so fast she hasn’t realized she’s done anything. Over time, she comes to accept her new talents and lets herself do what she has to do, all the while trying to figure out what has been done to her; because she knows something has been done, something bad, but everyone keeps telling her she’s just adjusting to her new life. Since everyone is different than she remembers, she doesn’t trust them and doesn’t stop her quest to find out the truth.
I want you to picture The Matrix, The Stepford Wives, Universal Solder and Born Identity, and you get a good gist of how things unfold. Nothing is as it seems…nothing! The plot is a cat and mouse game, but then you find out what’s really going on and everything changes. That’s why the description doesn’t really explain Mad Skills, because if it did, everything would be spoiled and that is beauty of a book like this.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t hooked until about the middle, and even though I liked Mad Skills, I won’t read it again. It’s an insane thriller, with one hell of a twist that I did not see coming, but my OCD can’t handle reading all those homemade weapons again without more nightmares. You know the phrase ‘Terantino it’? Well that’s how Greatshell wrote this book, you get part of the ending first, then you get the explanation of where she began and then the book ends. There’s no blending of the ending of the Mad Skills with the prologue/beginning. It’s more than wide open for another book; you could have three in between these two points in Maddy’s story. I didn’t like that part; it was confusing and was disappointing that the two didn’t really meet up.
There’s also a very strong hint, or yell depending on how you look at things, on the authors personal views. Things are bashed and made fun of, through Maddy’s new ‘eyes’, things that most of us find endearing and comforting. Like she suddenly sees country music is for morons and religion is idiotic among many other things. I, for one, can overlook these tidbits and see the story behind it, but there is a lot of it, almost every page, and some can’t stomach that kind of in your face opinion contradicting their own. So be warned.
With that said, I am extremely impressed with Mr. Greatshell and the immense research he must have done to create the world in Mad Skills. If you enjoyed the movies I listed above, you’ll enjoy this book.