Aislyn suffers from crippling shyness—that is, until she’s offered a dose of Charisma, an underground gene therapy drug guaranteed to make her shine. The effects are instant. She’s charming, vivacious, and popular. But strangely, so are some other kids she knows. The media goes into a frenzy when the disease turns contagious, and then deadly, and the doctor who gave it to them disappears. Aislyn must find a way to stop it, before it’s too late.
I decided to pick up Charisma simply because I really loved watching the movie Nerve — the film adaptation of Jeanne Ryan’s previous YA novel. Before watching the movie, Nerve hadn’t really been on my radar, and once I researched it, I felt like it wasn’t something I desperately needed to read. What I gathered from some reviews was that it painted introverts in a negative light and suggested that the only way to have a fulfilling life was to ‘become extroverted’. Because introverts are boring and killjoys, right? As much as I didn’t want to support that idea, I liked the movie for a bit of entertainment. It was a bit of fun. So when I heard about Charisma, I thought I’d give it a go. What I really wanted was for it to be like the Nerve movie — exciting, different, and full of twists and turns. While the idea itself was quite interesting and I was pulled in from the premise, it unfortunately didn’t live up to my expectations.
The Messages About Extroversion vs Introversion
This whole novel revolves around the idea that in order to become successful and fulfilled, you need to be charismatic and extroverted. Our protagonist, Aislyn, suffers from a form of anxiety and coupled with her shyness, feels as though she’s destined for a lacklustre life, which is why she decides to ‘fix’ herself by using Charisma — a drug that will make her extroverted. I can understand that she wanted to overcome her anxiety, but this novel sends a dubious message towards introverts and people suffering from social anxiety. That they’re useless. That they won’t ever amount to anything unless they’re extroverted. Although Aislyn eventually comes to the ‘realisation’ that her shyness shouldn’t stand in the way of her life, I’m still questioning the legitimacy of that epiphany when the whole novel revolved around the idea that she was so much better off for ridding herself of her anxiety. Some of us don’t have that luxury, and we shouldn’t be told that we’re less values because of our battles.
Unfortunately, I found Charisma to be a very slow-paced read. I had hoped for a book that would draw me in and keep me on the edge of my seat, but Charisma wasn’t that. I was disappointed to find that the most action that happened was when our protagonist actually spoke to her crush for the first time. There was honestly nothing much that made me want to keep reading, except the hope that it would miraculously transform into a 5-star read. It was definitely a very character-driven novel, but that would have been okay if I actually liked the characters. My whole experience was just very meh.
Dull, Boring Characters
No — these characters, especially our protagonist — aren’t boring because they’re introverted. Aislyn is a dull character simply because she was somewhat obnoxious and didn’t seem to have any real ambitions. Sure, she was passionate about science, but all that seemed to take the backseat when she found that she could be confident enough to talk to her crush once she took her miracle drug. And her so-called ‘ambition’ to be more extroverted was fuelled by the jealously of her best friend. I mean, really? Aren’t we past girls hating other girls in books? Needless to say, I didn’t find their ‘friendship’ very compelling or something I wanted to aspire to. You shouldn’t have to change who you are just to get ahead of your friends.
Charisma started off promising and lured me in with its intriguing premise, but ultimately let me down because of the messages it sent about introversion and my failure to connect with the characters. If you’re a fan of Jeanne Ryan’s previous novel, Nerve, then maybe you’ll enjoy Charisma. I’d just warn you not to get your hopes up too high.
Have you read either Charisma or Nerve? Did you see the movie Nerve? Do you typically enjoy books with speculative fiction elements, such as this one? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!