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Middle Ground

Middle Ground

4.3 16
by Katie Kacvinsky

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In this provocative cautionary tale for teens, the sequel to Awaken, seventeen-year-old Maddie’s rebellion against the digital-only life grows dangerous. Maddie is in Los Angeles, trying to stay out of trouble. But one night, a seemingly small act of defiance lands her in the place she fears the most: a detention center. Here, patients are


In this provocative cautionary tale for teens, the sequel to Awaken, seventeen-year-old Maddie’s rebellion against the digital-only life grows dangerous. Maddie is in Los Angeles, trying to stay out of trouble. But one night, a seemingly small act of defiance lands her in the place she fears the most: a detention center. Here, patients are reprogrammed to accept a digital existence. Maddie is now fighting for her mind, her soul, and her very life. Once again, Katie Kacvinsky paints a disturbing picture of our increasingly technology-based society.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Lyrical, provocative, passionate and thought-provoking."--Kirkus
VOYA - Paula Gallagher
This compelling sequel to Awaken (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011/VOYA April 2011) opens with rebellious Maddie in Los Angeles, ready for a night out with friends. She should not be surprised to discover that Club Nino is merely a virtual dance club. After all, it is 2060, and everyone lives their life online. The real world is too dangerous, and even school is now exclusively a virtual experience. Yearning for in-person contact, Maddie shuts down the club's operating system, sending everyone out into the streets. Detained by management, she comes face to face with coconspirator and would-be boyfriend Justin. Radical Justin encourages dangerous behavior, and soon their actions land Maddie in a detention center. But here rehabilitation is nothing but one psychological nightmare after another, intended to re-acclimate her to life online. And Maddie's own father is one of the founders and financial backers of both the detention center and digital school. Does he have any idea that the counselors at the detention center are using mind-altering drugs to brainwash the inmates? Soon Maddie reconnects with the outside world with the help of a sympathetic employee, continuing her torrid relationship with Justin while leading a rebellion against both the detention center and virtual life. Kacvinsky succeeds in crafting a believable, sterile future, making Maddie's plight urgent. Teens will be happy for the return of a smart, strong heroine, more decisive and self-assured this time around. However, the book falters in its closing chapters, which become more telling than showing. Maddie's father remains a cardboard villain, making her final decision an implausible one. Reviewer: Paula Gallagher
Children's Literature - Greta Holt
The detention center is cold, antiseptic, and lethal. Rebellious teens are corrected there. Rebellion is defined as not cooperating with the online world that has been created to corral young people's attention and prevent actual violence. Maddie's father is primarily responsible for forming the online world, but his rival has taken over the detention centers, and now Maddie is in one. Justin, Maddie's boyfriend, is the leader of an underground that attempts to break through the haze of internet life, digital bodies, and false emotions. Maddie is arrested after ruining a club's carefully orchestrated avatar system. This stunt sends the young people in attendance onto the streets as themselves. The action is fast paced, and readers will empathize with Maddie as she makes the brave decision to stay in the detention center—when she could escape—to learn more about its methods. Justin and his group can use Maddie's knowledge to fight the powers that have taken over the minds of the nation's youth. Reviewer: Greta Holt
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—In this sequel to Awaken (Houghton Harcourt, 2011), Maddie again finds herself railing against the omnipresent digital world. From Digital School (DS) to virtual night clubs, teens have access to anything their hearts desire, but only via a computer screen. Real-life interactions are a thing of the past in this brave new world, a fact that Maddie cannot accept. To make matters worse, her father is the creator of DS, and many of her decisions deepen the growing rift between them. At the top of this list of bad decisions is Maddie's choice of boyfriend. Justin is the leader of the DS resistance, a group bent on exposing the dangers of the digital-only life and eliminating the detention centers that are used to forcibly propagate this lifestyle. Justin's fervor for this cause explodes when Maddie's attempts to buck the system land her inside one of these dreaded centers. She is forced to endure a treatment her captors refer to as "The Cure" for six months as Justin and her compatriots gather evidence and make a plan for her escape, a plan that must succeed or real life will forever be a part of the past. In Middle Ground, Kacvinsky presents a compelling argument for the lost art of conversation, set against a dark version of our possible collective future. Maddie is a pleasingly reluctant heroine, resulting in a story that is as fresh as it is timely.—Colleen S. Banick, Westport Public Schools, CT
Kirkus Reviews
In this sequel to Awaken (2011), Maddie's rebellion against digital school and social networking run amok land her in a detention center where detainees are conditioned to fear physical contact and transformed into pliant consumers content to conduct their lives online. In 2060, Americans live an increasingly virtual existence (think "Half-Life"). Kids attend school from the safety of their bedrooms. Nightclub partygoers dance and interact through sophisticated digital avatars. Online funerals console the bereaved through forums and photos, rather than the warmth of human contact. Incarcerated, Maddie stubbornly fights the powerful conditioning. She's supported by allies new and old, especially charismatic rebel Justin, her romantic and political partner in the fight to experience the sensory world directly. Over time, Maddie grows weaker; continued resistance results in an ever-longer sentence that she's unlikely to survive. Independent, courageous and immensely likable, Maddie is the heart of this story. Human contact unmediated by sterile, digitized perfection is messy, imperfect and even dangerous, but she's willing to pay the price. If Kacvinsky's wider worldbuilding remains sketchy, with frustratingly few panoramic shots of the culture at large, there are compensations. Seen in close-up, Maddie's sensuous, suspenseful voyage of discovery offers an intense, emotionally charged snapshot of the future that's rare in science fiction. Lyrical, provocative, passionate and thought-provoking. (Science fiction/romance. 12 & up)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Awaken Series , #2
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Los Angeles, September 24, 2060

I have over one hundred online profiles. They link me to thousands of people who link me to thousands more and together we form an anonymous world. My life is ruled by stars and thumbs and tomatoes and points and carts. I can rate my friends. I can know anything. But sometimes I don’t want all the answers. I want to cleanse my mind of knowing because I never have to wonder or imagine or think or reflect. I never have to remember or organize or plan. It’s all done for me. But doesn’t that just make me a marionette?

I’m ready to cut the strings.

I’ve made it my goal to start deleting my profiles, one each day. It’s my new detox plan. My mom always says you need to weed your life every couple of years, of things and even of people, or it all piles up and accumulates, and it’s impossible to stretch out when so many things are competing for space to grow.

I’m keeping some of the sites, the ones that inspire me and encourage me and put people in my path who are irreplaceable. The ones who value my time instead of squandering it. But I need more than this life. It’s all communicating on the surface, living on the surface—it’s like low-calorie relationships. Well, that isn’t filling enough for me. I’ve never had the willpower to diet. I’d much rather feast.

U-Design-It Profile: Deleted

I can design anything I want with this site. I can sit inside the mouth of a volcano. I can ride down a lava flow. I can be a director and a cook. I can wrap my arms around a star. I can walk on top of the arch of a rainbow. I can lift a building with my hands and place it here or there. I can play God in this place. But at the end of the day, have I really done anything? Or am I just full of hot air? Do I deflate when I log off?

Make-Yourself-Over Profile: Deleted

This site is a personal shopper. Commercials tell me what to own. Celebrities tell me what to look like. But isn’t it what we do, not what we own, that makes a difference? Isn’t it how we treat people, not how we appear, that makes us attractive? If we could see only internal beauty, what would people look like? Who would the supermodels be?

DS-Meet-Me Profile: Deleted

I can meet you. But I can’t hear you smile. And that’s my favorite sound, how his skin and breath and lips change when he smiles. It can’t show me that each hair on his head insists on growing in a different direction, so it’s always a mess, even after he combs it. It can show me his hair is dark brown, but it can’t show me that it lightens just above his temples. It can’t show me that he prefers to sleep on his stomach with both hands tucked under the pillow, up to his elbows. It can’t tell me that when he walks into the room I will feel calm and nervous and elated and relieved all at the same time.

People are like places: you don’t truly know them until you take the time to visit and experience them in person. I prefer to be a traveler. Life is three-dimensional, but there are other dimensions we can’t see, can only feel, and those are the ones I want to explore.

I’m learning that the real world is full of land mines. I’ve set a few of them off. It’s full of mistakes, and of actions and words you can’t take back. But I’m also learning that mistakes may open more doors than they close.

C h a p t e r One

Clare and I changed at Pat and Noah’s apartment in Hollywood. She was in town visiting for the weekend and we both agreed to celebrate by getting dressed up and going clubbing in L.A. We got ready in Noah’s practice studio, crowded with guitars and amplifiers and speakers stacked up to the ceiling. I squeezed into a red dress that Clare loaned me. It was tight and low cut, something my dad would probably ground me for wearing, which was reason enough to embrace it. I slipped my arm under the silky strap, watching the tattoo of a bird on my wrist happily soar through.

Clare’s black strapless dress sparkled with tiny sequins. We sauntered down the hallway like we were strutting down a catwalk. When we turned into the living room we found Pat and Noah just as we’d left them over an hour before—sitting on the couch wearing jeans and T-shirts and working off their manly testosterone by battling it out over a soccer video game. I now understood why guys played video games—they needed something to do to kill time while they waited for girls to get ready.

Pat and Noah shared a typical bachelor pad: every inch of wall space was covered in digital screens, and every piece of furniture was black leather with built-in drink holders, back massagers, footrests, and video-control pads. The bottom cushion of one seat was propped up to reveal a minifridge (since taking four steps to the kitchen was such an inconvenience).

Clare cleared her throat, and Pat’s eyes flickered toward us. He paused the game and stared for a few seconds, confused, like we were strangers who’d let ourselves in without knocking.

"Wow," Noah said. "You two look amazing."

"What’s the occasion?" Pat asked.

Clare raised her arms like it was obvious. "Aren’t we going dancing?"

"Yeah," Noah said. "But we’re just going to Nino’s."

Clare’s shoulders sank and she shook her head.

"What’s Nino’s?" I asked.

Noah blinked with surprise. "You’ve never heard of it? It’s a virtual dance club. It’s going off tonight."

My face fell. "It’s virtual? Isn’t the point of going out to be around people? There’s got to be real dance clubs in this city."

"There will be people there," Noah said. "It just makes getting rejected by women a little easier for Pat."

"You’re hilarious." Pat snickered.

"Maybe your ego needs some rejection once in a while, Noah," Clare informed her brother, whose band, the Managers, had been getting national attention since they recorded their latest album in L.A. Clare made it a priority to deflate his star status whenever she got the opportunity. "How many girls call you on a typical day?" she asked.

Noah brushed some shaggy dark hair out of his eyes. "You mean call or text or voice-text or videochat or message or contact?"

Clare groaned and ran her fingers through her short brown hair. "This, I haven’t missed." Pat’s phone beeped and I noticed his eyebrows arch when he checked the screen. He started to type a message.

"Who’s that?" I asked him.

"Probably Noah’s latest groupie," Clare offered.

"Don’t talk about your mom that way," Pat responded. Before Clare and Noah could throw out a reply, I grabbed Clare’s hand and pulled her toward the door.

"Let’s get out of here," I voted. "Nino’s sounds . . . interesting."

"There’s a hundred-dollar cover," Pat said as he continued to type on his phone.

"A hundred dollars?" Clare and I said together.

"It’s the hottest club in L.A., a hundred’s cheap," Noah said. "I’ll treat. It’s my idea anyway."

"For that price, it better come with model escorts," I said.

Pat turned off the wall screen and grabbed a jacket. "You won’t be disappointed," he promised.

The four of us piled into a ZipLimo and headed downtown to Third and La Cienega. Noah insisted the trick to getting celebrity treatment in L.A. was arriving in style. ZipLimos were in limited supply in the city, but Pat knew a promoter who reserved one for us.

We swiped our fingerprints before the shuttle took off. My dad had set up a temporary fake profile connected to my fingerprint so police wouldn’t be able to track my movements, but my father still had constant access to my whereabouts. I was still on his leash.

Clare ran her hand along the leather upholstery, and blue interior lights cast an electric glow inside the tight space. I leaned back in the seat and absorbed the smooth acceleration of the car. I was learning I needed motion in my life. I craved it, as if the movement outside of me charged movement inside. It reminded me I was more than a stationary object. I had legs for a reason. I wasn’t meant to be molded to a chair.

Pat sat next to me, and his jacket sleeve brushed against my arm. I scooted over to give him room, or maybe because I felt safer putting space between us. In the four weeks I’d been in L.A., I’d spent most of my time with Pat. He was one of my only friends in town and even though I had my brother, Joe, he embraced the digital life—he worked, exercised, socialized, and dated on his computer. I’d seen him for only a few hours since I’d been in town, and I lived with him. But living had become so computerized, we rarely interacted in person. Even though we were divided only by three-inch-thick walls, we were living in separate worlds that clashed when they connected, like purple on red.

"You should move down here," I told Clare. I missed her energy. She was the friendship equivalent of a shot of caffeine.

"I have to get back in a few days. I have a date," she said with a bored expression, like a date was up there with vacuuming as her idea of fun. "I don’t know why I bother."

"Which site are you using?" Noah asked.

"I prefer masochistic dating," Clare said. "You know, face-to-face. I met this guy at a coffee shop."

Noah whistled through his teeth. "Impressive."

Clare shrugged. "It beats those awkward online interview dates any day," she said.

We all shuddered at this. My parents didn’t allow me to date, but I knew there were hundreds of match sites. They claimed they could pair you with your soul mate in thirty days or less, or your money back. They could go as far as genetic profiling, so you could see blueprints of your future kids. We wanted fast love. Drive-through dating. And we got it.

"I refuse to use dating sites," Clare announced. "Technology can now bring us love for six hundred dollars?"

"A lot of my friends like them," Pat said.

"It’s because it’s set up like a video game," Clare said. "You have to make it to level ten before you can virtually meet. And you have to rack up points in order to advance to the next dating stage."

Pat smiled. "Exactly. It’s like playing online soccer, except I’m trying to score with a girl."

"Romantic," I said. "Don’t worry, Clare. Someday you’ll get swept off your feet."

"More likely by a train than a guy," she said with a shrug, as if this were her fate and she’d already accepted it. "We haven’t heard from you in a while," Clare mentioned to Pat. I knew what she was referring to. Since he had moved to L.A. to help manage Noah’s band, he’d dropped his friends back in Oregon.

Pat shrugged. "I’m taking a break from all that," he said.

"You’re not going to fight digital school anymore?" I asked.

His hazel eyes met mine. "It’s not the most dire concern in my life."

"Not when there’s excellent music to produce," Noah added.

"So you’re just giving up?" Clare asked.

Pat flashed her an annoyed frown. "No, I’m just not that dedicated. I have other goals besides racing to save America’s youth from a world of digital prison," he said. Pat always had a sarcastic side, especially when he was in the presence of me and Clare, but he’d never spoken against fighting DS before.

"What if Justin needs your help?" I pressed.

Pat checked a message on his phone. "I’m not off the schedule completely. You can call me a seasonal employee. I help out when we’re understaffed." He met my eyes. "Don’t get me wrong, DS sucks, but now that I’m out of it, it doesn’t seem as bad. School’s just a part of life. You survive the monotonous boredom, you get out and move on. It’s like your mandatory torture years."

"That’s not why we’re fighting it," Clare argued.

Noah’s eyes were skeptical. "Hey, rebel twins, a lot of people actually like digital school. You don’t know what you’re up against."

He looked from me to Clare and laughed at our identical frowns.

"DS is easy," Noah said. "You don’t have to waste time getting places. You don’t have to put up with all the drama being face-to-face creates. You don’t even have to get out of bed. I spent my entire high school career in my pajamas."

"Thrilling," I said. "There’s a word for not getting out of bed all day. It’s depression."

"You have more time to do the things you want," Noah argued. "It’s not that bad."

"It’s a trap," I said. "People don’t know how to exist outside of it, that’s the problem. People might not be experiencing drama, but they’re also not experiencing anything else. It’s taking over our entire culture."

"Hey, Debby Downers, can we talk about something fun?" Pat asked. "Besides, Maddie, it’s not like you’re committed to fighting DS," he reminded me. Just as he spoke, the limo turned the corner onto Third Street, and a neon billboard sign for Club Nino blinked down at us. A long line stretched along the side of the building, and the crowd turned to gape at the limo when we slowed down in front of the entrance. Some people were already poised to take videos, hands up and phones ready. Noah opened the door and we were greeted by a short bouncer in a suit and tie who held a scanner in his hand like a gun ready to fire at anyone who dared question his guest list.

"Bouncers," Pat mumbled under his breath. "They think they own the city."

The bouncer asked us if we had reservations, and judging from his deadpan expression, we could have shown up hovering in a spacecraft and he wouldn’t have been impressed.

I started to shake my head but Pat announced we needed four seats.

"We’re at capacity," the bouncer said. "You’ll have to get in the back of the line."

Pat shrugged. "All right, if you want to turn down a member of the Managers. It might hurt your image, but that’s your call."

A few girls in the front of the line had already recognized Noah and started yelling his name. When he turned to wave he was greeted with shrieks and a swarm of lights from camera phones. A dozen glittery dresses bounced up and down.

"Come on," Pat said, and pulled at Noah’s sleeve. "Isn’t your music label throwing a party tonight?"

The bouncer’s tight frown relaxed. "Wait, let me see what I can do," he said, his tone changing from snobbery to flattery in less than a second. "I might have a few VIP seats open." He typed on his screen, mumbled orders into his earpod, and, after scanning our fingerprints, ushered us through a side door and then up a flight of metal stairs. Noah turned and waved once more to his fans and was answered with shrieks so loud it made Clare cringe next to me.

"I think the trick to getting celebrity treatment is to actually be a celebrity," I told her as we walked inside.

A security guard led us down a narrow hallway. The ceiling lights were a frosty yellow and I looked down at a see-through plastic floor, lit up underneath with colorful rotating lights. Techno music seeped through the walls, and bass pulsated the ground. I grinned and thought maybe the hundred-dollar cover charge was worth it.

When we pushed open a heavy door into the main dance room, my smile quickly vanished.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Lyrical, provocative, passionate and thought-provoking."—Kirkus

Meet the Author

Katie Kacvinsky worked in the entertainment industry and as a high school English teacher before deciding to write full time. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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Middle Ground 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
NenaMB More than 1 year ago
I liked it a lot.  The first book is better because there is a lot more romance between the two main characters.  She spent too much much time at the hospital  but other than that it was still good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
Easily a stand-alone novel, although this book is a sequel to Awaken (2011).  The cover of these two books will draw the reader to them and the content will keep them up all night.  Maddie lives in a future world where human contact is rare because digital interaction is so entrenched in the population.  Maddie is a rebel, kept out of detention by the wealth and power of her emotionally-distant father. When she oversteps the boundaries set forth by her society, she is finally sent to the detention center where her punishment is the reprogramming of her brain.  The only thing that helps keep her focused is thoughts of Justin.  No, this is not a sappy romance and no (thankfully) there is no third party to make a neat little love triangle.  Both teens have a hard exterior yet the reader sees empathy, fear, and longing in each.  They struggle to find and help each other AND to do the right thing in a society that rejects humans thinking for themselves.  This is a book I will recommend TODAY to my students.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series is amazing.
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Love this series! Can't wait for the third book!
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Send nook friend request
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You wrote that three days after my brithday (its on feb5.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You wrote that on my birthday! :)