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BOOK REVIEW: We See Everything by William Sutcliffe

BOOK REVIEW: We See Everything by William Sutcliffe

Bloomsbury
November 2017
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult

6/10

Lex lives on The Strip – the overcrowded, closed-off, bombed-out shell of London. He’s used to the watchful enemy drones that buzz in the air above him. 

Alan’s talent as a gamer has landed him the job of his dreams. At a military base in a secret location, he is about to start work as a drone pilot. 

These two young men will never meet, but their lives are destined to collide. Because Alan has just been assigned a high-profile target. Alan knows him only as #K622. But Lex calls him Dad. 

 

We See Everything examines war and occupation from both sides of the battle, in which those labeled terrorists are the ones confined within what remains of London.

As we follow these two boys, Lex imprisoned in The Strip, and Alan who is a drone pilot on the outside, we see the ways in which they are similar.

  • They both like video games:

I remember endless, boring lectures on how I had to focus on the real world instead of wasting all my attention on games, constant nagging pressure to spend time with ‘real people’, as if the online friends I played with were somehow a figment of my imagination.
Dinosaurs, the whole lot of them, lost in the past, stuck with the idea that there’s ‘real’ and there’s ‘virtual’ and one is somehow realer than the other.

You wouldn’t think a game like that would be popular here, but it is. Every boy at school plays it when the power’s on and daydreams about it when the power’s off. Gaming is a trapdoor we can jump through at any time, taking us out of here, to another world. And in this other place, it’s us with the guns.

  • Each one has a crush on a girl and is pretending to be more confident than he is to try and make headway:

Her green eyes flash towards me, and I sense her catching the intensity with which I’m staring at her mouth. We briefly examine one another, in a silence that teeters on the brink of weirdness. There’s a how dare you thing that girls usually do if they see you look at them this way, and she isn’t doing it. She’s looking right back at me, inscrutably, but without hostility.

One of the things I’ve analysed is how there’s a line you have to tread between showing off and making light of yourself. To impress a woman you have to balance one with the other. The goal is to demonstrate how great you are without it looking like you are attempting to do this, which is a crazy paradox, but that’s what you have to pull off.

  • Each has struggles communicating with one of their parents:

It’s a curious kind of intimacy this: sharing a home, hovering around one another, kept apart by a hostility that has made us ghosts in one another’s lives.
Our house feels as if it has filled with the sour, musty smell of loneliness. I sometimes worry that guys on the base will catch a whiff of it on my clothes, or glimpse it in my eyes. It seems somehow shameful to live like this, but I can’t think how to change course.

As I listen to the familiar, comforting music of Mum’s reading, it strikes me how beautiful and also how sad it is that your parents protect you from everything, even the truth, until the day you find yourself standing in blinding light, alone, not quite knowing where you are or how you arrived there.

  • They’ve both recently bought their own sets of wheels:

I was made for this bike and she was made for me. The world can seem a spiky and confusing place, but when I’m on my Kawasaki I know for certain who I am, and that everything I do is just fine. The rest of the time, I’m not so sure.

I remember learning to ride when I was small, and I’ve had occasional turns on other people’s bikes, but I had no idea that a couple of wheels and a metal frame could set you free like this.
I’m a little wobbly at first, but the knack quickly returns. Last time I had one I was younger than the twins, and forbidden from straying beyond the end of the street. Now, with this simple machine, I can go anywhere. I can explore the whole city.

They’ve also both been the uncool nobodies until a recent change in stature.

And they ways in which they are different, like the fact that Lex can’t afford to smoke, and Alan does it just so he has an excuse to step outside. With the aforementioned recent increase in power, Lex remains a good guy, and Alan lets it go to his head.

But, all said, they have far more in common than things to set them apart. 

 

Setting the story in London is a nice touch, in showing westerners just how people in an occupied country might eek out an existence and without having the immediate gut reaction of “but that’s not how we do things here”. A lot of effort went into the planning, and there were a lot of things done right. This is bound to encourage discussions on racism and prejudice, and would make a good school text (though there is a sex scene, it is not graphic) for the exploration open to readers. 

And yet it does have its issues.

The story is written in first-person present-tense, alternating between the two point of view characters. The choice of tense is not an issue in and of itself, as this can be done well, and in stories where the reader has to make the journey with the characters to see who does or does not survive, it’s the only way to logically tell the story. A first-person past-tense story would suggest the narrator is looking back on the story from the of the book, so it would let the reader know they made it through. But there were a few times in which the present-tense narration Sutcliffe opted for shifted to past-tense for a paragraph or two in order to try and drum up foreboding, and that just isn’t on.

It’s obvious that Alan is meant to be a normal guy who loosens his morals somewhat under his newfound power, but he kinda just seemed like an ass anyway. And his mixture of social-awkwardness, cocky pretense, and boost in status, seem to transform him into all that is wrong with male privilege. 

In the end, this reader had a hard time connecting to any of the characters completely, and though the last chapter had a lot of emotion it didn’t make up for the lack of connection throughout the rest of the book. But this was a reasonably quick and engaging read on an important topic in our tumultuous and technologically advanced times. 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: We See Everything by William Sutcliffe

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