The initial concept of Unplugged is intriguing: what would happen if several middle school students with electronic addictions were sent to a unique summer camp? No cell phones, no laptops, no video games – those are the rules at The Natural Path, located in the English countryside and run by Dr. Zarkov and Miss Hess.
In this YA novel by P.D. Quaver, 12-and-13-year-olds from around the world are sent to The Natural Path by their wealthy parents who have responded to the camp’s ad, in hopes of breaking their child’s dependence on gadgets.
But fairly quickly, the plot not only thickens, it turns dark and ominous. This is not to say the book isn’t enjoyable – it is. It just goes from the concept of a civilized but simple camp story to one that includes kidnapping, near-starvation and death. After the parents are gone, and the first meal consumed, the children (headed by Max Freiburg) retire for the evening, only to be awakened by men with guns who order them to dress quickly. Amidst their confusion and screams, it becomes clear they are being kidnapped and removed from camp. When they are duct-taped and blindfolded, the seriousness of the situation sets in. Suddenly, the peaceful, electronic-free English countryside is a thing of the past.
The young people are flown to a remote island by people who seem to be Russian rebels, and Dr. Zarkov and Miss Hess are part of the group. Apparently, the camp was never a reality but was instead a ruse to gather these young people from wealthy families so that their parents could be made to pay ransom for their return. Whereas earlier, going without cell phones or laptops was thought to be an inconvenient way of breaking a habit, it now becomes a dangerous obstacle since they have no way of reaching out for help. Their kidnappers force them to make videos to be sent home, and they are kept in a cramped area that feels like a jail. Agatha – one of the female students – is diabetic and she becomes the first casualty of the ordeal, waiting for insulin she was forced to leave behind when ushered onto the plane.
Unplugged is billed as a novel for a young adult audience, but it is fairly violent and its high level of tension and drama will certainly keep adults involved, as well. In spite of the seriousness of the storyline, author P.D. Quaver weaves in humor at times (calling one of the students, from Greece, “Miklos Somethingopolos”, for example). There are flaws to the novel, including some grammatical errors or perhaps typos, and the incessant use of French student Monique saying in stereotypical style “Ooh la la”. But overall, the book is a thriller, as ironically the students rally to build friendships and overcome the absence of technology to ultimately (but not without more casualties) prevail.