Author: Doree Shafrir
Releasing tomorrow! (Tuesday, April 25)
The tech industry has us all convinced that having the latest gadget or hottest app is paramount to survival. Nobody is more prepared to deliver that spiel than Mack McAllister, whose TakeOff app is on the cusp of breaking through into the billion dollar range. So far he’s managed to successfully navigate the instantaneous nature of the social media world, but a single misguided moment in the never-ending stream of data might be enough to derail him with a PR disaster to rival those that have recently played out in real life. What ensues is a scathing look at the “techbro” industry, with razor humor and pacing that had me finishing the book within 24 hours. And the guy in the unicorn onesie on the cover? That’s actually in the book.
Startup opens with Mack on the brink of signing a major funding agreement that will allow him to push TakeOff to the next level. All roads seem to be clear and sunny – he has an incredible team of development engineers handling the back-end and a savvy young social media manager (Isabel) putting a positive face on the company.
Working out of the same conglomerate office building is Katya, a tech journalist who needs a scoop big enough to solidify her job security in the face of an announcement that her bosses want more out of their writers. While attending an industry party, she happens to glance at Isabel’s abandoned phone and can’t un-see what’s there. A series of drunken texts pop up that do more than just convince Isabel she wants to sever her secret relationship with Mack – they provide Katya with the ammunition to blow the lid off on a potential sexual harassment scandal. This could be her moment. But how can she get to the root of it without revealing her questionably ethical decision to photograph the texts without Isabel’s knowledge?
The following web of careful deception and veiled intentions reveals that the world is smaller than we might think, and that a single wrong move can start an unbreakable downward spiral. In addition to Mack and Isabel, there’s Sabrina, a middle-aged woman who feels completely out of her depth working under Isabel managing TakeOff’s social media accounts. Sabrina is married to Dan, who is Katya’s editor and can’t stand the fact that his wife works for Mack McAllister. These layered connections aren’t hard to follow within the text, and it’s fascinating to see the maneuvering as characters try to leverage each relationships for their own benefit. And despite the technological nature of the characters’ employment, everything is written in a way that will be accessible to any reader.
Startup takes aim at millennial culture and pretty much hits dead center. It teeters on the edge of satire, though I know the issues it raises are very real. In addition to questions of privacy and entitlement in relationships, it skewers the hyper-connected, oversharing nature of many young people today. Another major facet of the book is how tech culture is predominantly made up of white males. It largely does so with humor, including an anonymous Twitter account, but I did think it got a little preachy with feminism toward the end. It’s not that the anti-harassment, anti-racism message is bad, but I didn’t think the way it was presented blended with 98% of the story or the characterization of the people delivering those lines. And if I ever see another line of dialogue that uses the word “mansplaining” in a fully serious manner, I’m taking an exacto knife to the page.* But considering the author is also a BuzzFeed writer, this writing style is unsurprising.
All in all, Startup is a fast, fun read that will leave you alternately cringing and snickering in all the right ways. It does have some explicit sexual content that I would not want a teen reading, but it’s not a major part of the book for those of us more advanced in years. For reference, it’s about the content of the disastrous messages rather than actual sex, as well as a venture into a salacious corner of Craigslist when Sabrina becomes desperate for money to hide her mounting credit card debt from Dan.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote, that I’m honestly unsure how to take considering the author’s employment at BuzzFeed.
Aggregation had become a dirty word, and the people who suffered were the readers, who were now faced with piles of online news dreck, and every story was the same, and no one checked sources, and eventually everyone was just going to die under a pile of clickbait, which was the dirtiest word of all.
*Don’t worry, it’s just one line.