Review of Counteract by Tracy Lawson

Two teens discover the government is staging terrorist attacks to exploit and control the public in Tracy Lawson’s eerily believable YA debut novel.
In an alternate reality version of 2034, terrorist attacks on American soil continue after the events of 9/11. The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense, created in 2019 to oversee domestic security, rises to unprecedented heights of power by exploiting the people’s overriding fear of terrorism.
When Tommy Bailey and Careen Catecher meet during one of the bogus terrorist attacks, they discover the OCSD’s darkest secret: an antidote distributed by the government to “protect” people from the effects of imaginary toxins in the air is really being used to lull them into a state of submission.
Tommy and Careen face a difficult choice: stay quiet about what they know—or risk their safety and anonymity to join an underground rebel group that’s determined to break the OCSD’s grip on the nation.
Counteract explores the nature of power and the consequences and difficulties created when government attempts to control minute details of citizens’ daily existence.

I have taken a bit of time out to consider my review of Counteract as I found it truly was a book of 2 halves.  The first half I honestly really struggled with and the second half utterly blew me away.  I have had to weigh up a lot as to whether the second half pulls it into a 4* review.

Starting with the first half. When I first read the blurb I immediately thought that Counteract would be my kind of book. The story itself was strong; the ever present threat of toxin’s in the air which could be weaponized by the enemy at any moment mean a counteractive antidote must be taken every day.  The government run the public by fear and take extensive measures to ensure that the public don’t miss their dose. The antidote however isn’t as it seems and CSD is actually little more than tweaked LSD. So far so good right? So a snappy start which is sadly followed up with pages and pages and pages of how our main characters Careen and Tommy react to the antidote by way of various trippy waking dreams until they are eventually shaken out of their stupor and finally begin to realise that perhaps they have not been getting the whole truth. I found this section really repetitive, almost like the author wanted to prove their research into the way LSD effects perception.  There are also some points where you really have to pay attention to the day and time stamp as occasionally your find yourself going back to different times and places in the same day.

Once we get to the second half though the narrative improves greatly and I sped through the pages.  The characters finally get the chance to find their voice and do something about the situation they find themselves in. The different threads finally weave together and you realise the true depths that the government is going to to control the population under the guise of their own safety.  There is a little bit of romance in there and it is done exceptionally well I have to say – hand fans were out and the writing definitely shows that less can be more. The book is actually really insightful, set not too far into our future, with a storyline which could actually be fairly plausible in a society in a perpetual state of fear.  Is it also so far fetched that in the advent of fake news and constant obsession with social media that less agile minds could easily succumb to this kind of fear mongering? I think this is what really sets the book apart in the closing stages, the fact that it feels like it really could happen.

The main problem I have however with the book of two halves situation is that there is a ton of information piled into the last half, it’s like a non-stop whirlwind.  It’s a clever juxtapose of the time our characters spend taking the antidote and then the clarity of mind after, but it all could have happened a lot sooner to really let the finer points of the twists and turns settle in.

Ultimately I have settled on a 4* for this review as the second half did in my view make up in spades for the first and if the rest of the series continues in this fashion I get the feeling it’s going to be one that I really enjoy.

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