Book Review: STARTUP: A Novel

Startup: A Novel, is the debut offering from Doree Shafrir, Senior Culture Writer at Buzzfeed. Set in the landscape of twentysomethings in the constantly evolving world of social media and mobile devices, Startup digs into the sometimes unflattering underbelly of New York City’s app driven tech sector and its endless parade of newly emerging companies, each with what they are sure will be the next game changing tool to download to your smartphone. These constantly sprouting enterprises rise and fall on a seemingly daily basis, thriving on a sometimes toxic mix of venture capital and social media buzz volume. Add in the reporters from an online tech publication (reminiscent of Gizmodo) and you’ve got all the players of the startup culture.

Rather than lionizing this new generation, Shafrir peels away the designer clothes and trendy accessories to reveal real people dealing with challenges familiar to every generation. While their social media personas may hint at rainbows, unicorns and an idealized, perfect world, these CEOs, developers and reporters are revealed to be panicked and sometimes paranoid people struggling to make it, even if they can’t quite define exactly what “it” might be. In a series of poignant passages, some of these kids are forced to reflect on how the real world didn’t turn out to be like college at all and some of the special snowflakes wind up melting on the sidewalks of the real world. The stereotype of most of this generation as being obsessed with liberal culture is occasionally present in a couple of the characters, but the author manages to bring them to life without being preachy or getting bogged down in partisan political claptrap.

The characters in this story are so richly and fully developed that you’ll feel like they’re your relatives by the time you get a full sense of where they are heading. It’s worth warning you, however, that most of them are not the relatives you’d find in a Hallmark holiday movie of the week. It’s been said that Game of Thrones is a story set in a beautiful world where horrible people do horrible things to other horrible people. Change “beautiful world” to “New York City” and “horrible “to “flawed and frequently befuddling” and you’ve got a sense of the cast of characters in Startup.

This tale can probably carry almost anyone away. Those who live and die by their mobile devices will recognize most all of the technical references and people who aren’t constantly locked in front of a laptop will get a revealing glimpse at what all of those annoying kids are always going on about. This book may be a great beach read for adults, but it’s not for younger children. Some of the characters’ intimate lives are exposed in graphic detail and the main story line surrounding a startup CEO deals with a self-destructive “Carlos Danger” moment which places him in extreme peril on multiple fronts. Also, the language used by some of the characters is occasionally gritty. Startup: A Novel is a great debut offering and should provide a welcome diversion to add to your spring and summer reading list. It’s out in a couple of weeks so you can order it today right here.