Story: Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham
What They Say
After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much. Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.
Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her. Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect . . . but are they really? The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
“Influence” is a reference to influencers, the top tier of the social media hierarchy that draws masses of followers. Given the title, I anticipated reading about YouTubers creating videos, brainstorming for fresh content, seeking profitable collaborations, that sort of thing. However, this is less about independent efforts to gain a fan base, and more about the dark side of those who’ve attained it all.
Delilah Rollins is a Minnesota teenager with a small YouTube following – until a video of her rescuing a puppy goes viral. Her sudden fame coincides with her family’s move to LA, and she finds herself rubbing shoulders with TV star Jasmine Walters-Diaz and gorgeous fashion YouTuber Fiona Jacobs. Unfortunately, she also catches the eye of hottie Jack Dono, boyfriend to sponsorship queen Scarlet Leigh, and instantly draws the ire of their gargantuan fan base.
Despite the text constantly referring to characters as influencers, they seem less like people carving out online personalities and more like stereotypical Hollywood celebrities. Jasmine, who has the most developed back story, is best described as an actor/entertainer who has been in television she was eleven. In contrast, Fiona supposedly gained a following because her YouTube videos are so hilarious, but even though people keep mentioning how funny she is, there are no scenes that show readers Fiona’s funny side. As for Scarlet, she’s a sponsorship queen, but it’s never clear what made her one. In fact, the one whose online brand we know most about is small fry Delilah’s DIY and pet videos.
So instead of portraying the characters as social media creatives, the story sets up Jasmine, Fiona, and Scarlet as gorgeous celebrities who put out a perfect public façade but hide secrets that could destroy everything they’ve got. This is hardly a new storyline, even with the social media aspect making things more invasive. And with Delilah thrown in, we also have the innocent Midwesterner trying to navigate the glitzy perils of LA, which is also not an original concept.
Following an old theme isn’t bad in of itself, but the execution in Influence left much to be desired. For example, the insta-friendship between Delilah and celebrities Fiona and Jasmine and Delilah’s simultaneous insta-romance with Jack Dono was a lot to swallow. The authors also forced in a high school feel to accommodate their online learning only teenagers. Despite their wealth and success, Fiona, Jasmine, and Scarlet along with the rest of LA’s young influencers all live in the same Vine Street condo, so it ends up as a kind of young celebrity dorm. And even though their busy careers keep them from attending regular school, they still get a prom (courtesy of Instagram), where they all get fabulously dressed up before social media bombs start dropping down.
There are also logistical issues with the details. The perspective rotates between the four girls, but while Delilah, Fiona, and Jasmine’s chapters are written in a close third person, Scarlet’s are presented as video transcripts. I didn’t have an issue with that per se, but there are parts where her phone supposedly livestreams without her knowledge, yet the video footage would’ve been impossible to get unless Scarlet was intending to get it.
However, if you don’t care so much about details and are simply out to see wealthy, beautiful, and broken people destroy others and themselves, Influence packs in destructive behavior, lies, scandal, grudges, and rivalries aplenty.
Because Sara Shepard is one of the creators, the book wouldn’t be complete without a murder, thus someone gets knocked off midway through the book. Whereas the first half of the story focuses on the tension between the characters’ private lives and their perfect public selves, the second half is a murder mystery, with Delilah as the head sleuth. However, her main suspects are way too cooperative with the Minnesota kid. And confessions and information come out without much prompting. The solving of the mystery culminates with two shockers, but if you actually go back and try to line up events, the sequence doesn’t make sense. Especially in light of Scarlet’s hidden health condition. And speaking of health conditions, I found it odd that Delilah, whom the narrative pointedly describes as really responsible about her diabetes, would conveniently let herself go blind drunk at a critical part of the story yet suffer no ill aftereffects.
LA’s biggest teen influencers are beautiful, glamorous – and desperate to hide their imperfections from the public eye. This theme isn’t a new one, and the social media creatives aspect isn’t as strong as the title would lead you to believe. For those that like jealous rivalries and vindictive attacks (online and physical), Influence has it in spades. But while the plot is loaded with shockers, it’s also riddled with tons of logic issues.
Content Grade: C+
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Delactore Press
Release Date: January 5th, 2021