‘Need’ by Joelle Charbonneau: Young adult fiction asks “what do you need?”


Rating: 4 stars

Need versus want: that’s what Joelle Charbonneau explores in this young adult thriller, “NEED,” about a small town in Wisconsin and how the teens react when a social networking site, NEED, appears asking them what they need.

At first, the “price” for the requests is easy — just get five people to sign up on the site. But the cost of the requests escalates to running errands, errands that seem innocuous at first. When Kaylee Dunham signs up, she knows that her request won’t be granted. She asks for a kidney for her brother who might die without a kidney transplant. She’s made a fool of herself asking everyone in school to be tested as a donor, and she’s desperately trying to find her father (who disappeared shortly after her brother’s diagnosis) to see if he might be a donor.

Her best friend, Nate, is a part of it and he has supported her in her quest to find a donor for her brother. Kaylee’s mother doesn’t trust her because of lies that Kaylee told after her father disappeared. So Kaylee’s best friend is the only person she can really rely on.

The story is told in first person narrative from Kaylee’s point of view but switches to third person limited narrative when sharing what other members of the NEED network are experiencing. Other teenagers are delivering anonymous messages, a box of cookies, switching out pills in medicine bottles. And the errands begin to be less innocuous but many of the teens realize too late that they can’t report what’s going on because they’ve been implicated and involved in the acts which are actually criminal and deadly.

There are some twists but the impact of the story isn’t what it leads up to, but rather the notion that social networking — especially anonymous social networking — can be dangerous. When there is no accountability for ones actions, there may be less concern about what is right and wrong. It’s a chilling thought.

This book is appropriate for middle school readers and older readers. It’s a stand-alone novel, unlike Charbonneau’s runaway successful debut series, “The Testing.” Reluctant readers would enjoy this story as would those who like thrillers and action stories.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.