Colleen Mondor Reviews This Is Not the Real World by Anna Carey

This Is Not the Real World, Anna Carey (Quirk 978-1-68369-281-2, $18.99, 288pp, hc) March 2022. Cover by Silke Werzinger.

Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers for This Is Not the Jess Show.

Anna Carey’s This Is Not the Real World opens five months after the events of This Is Not the Jess Show. Protagonist Jess and her boyfriend Kipps have successfully escaped the reality TV show in which Jess was raised and are hiding out in Maine with their rescuers until Kipps reaches the age of 18 and is no longer bound by the production contract signed by his parents. Jess is adapting to life in the real world and learning more of what she missed in the current year, 2037, while living in a show that was set in the 1990s. Still angry with her parents and the show’s pro­ducers for lying to her for so many years, she is on a high state of alert about being discovered by Like-Life Productions. When Kipps is found and forced back onto the show, Jess knows she has to go back and get him out, while also revealing the truth to the world about the producers and their nefarious activities.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a sequel to This Is Not the Jess Show, as that book ended on a solid note with no cliffhangers. Carey easily continues the story, and it is not hard to believe that the villainous Like-Life Productions would pursue Kipps and make life hard for Jess as well. The company is furious about the people who helped Jess and Kipps and sets out to destroy Charli and Sara, who have become the only real family that Jess now has. Her decision to return to the show and ‘‘tear it down from the inside’’ is understandable and gives readers the delightful opportunity to see the program from the other side. As Jess discovers all the ways in which she was fooled into thinking it was her real life, and how the many actors and producers on the show were able to keep her in the dark, she also finds out who her real friends, and enemies, are. This makes for some thrilling moments and a lot of suspense as she must put fresh acting skills to the test for some very serious reasons.

This Is Not the Real World succeeds as a romantic near-future thriller, packing plenty of excitement as Jess and Kipps figure out who they can trust while also navigating how they can both get out with the proof they need to take down Like-Life once and for all. The fast-paced plot makes for exciting reading, but Carey also makes a few salient points about the dark appeal of reality television that give the narrative a deeper message. ‘‘Nostalgia is a balm for all the world’s problems,’’ one of her fellow actors explains to Jess, ‘‘Nostalgia as a way to zone out. When everything ahead of you is too terrifying to think about, you start looking back.’’ Carey is giving her readers a warning here, and in the midst of enjoy­ing Jess’s adventures, they would be wise to heed it. Kudos to the author for weaving something so prescient into a novel that seems far-fetched and even occasionally funny but is actually far more realistic than we may care to believe.

Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website:

This review and more like it in the July 2022 issue of Locus.

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