Verdict: THE HOPE STORE presents an original an interesting concept and a unique ride.
Kazu and Luke are two business partners and life partners, who together have opened a store in Chicago that promises to change the world. The Hope Store combines the latest science research and some savvy marketing: the upshot is, for about a thousand dollars, they have a machine that is supposed to make you more hopeful. Jada, a perpetually hopeless person, becomes an early adopter and sometimes critic. Meanwhile, hundreds of so-called Natural Hopers take to the streets, protesting the Hope Store as an abomination.
Dwight Okita’s THE HOPE STORE is an interesting idea, not to mention a sci-fi thought experiment in the purest sense. The idea of creating hope in a lab and selling it in a store has a number of different possible avenues for exploration; for instance, if it created a world where only the rich could afford hope; or if all the extra hope just made people more careless and foolish; or even the Natural Hopers as an anti-vaxx-like group of stubborn neo-luddites. This concept could easily produce a satire of capitalism or the pharmaceutical industry, a Black Mirror-esque dystopia, or any number of interesting stories. But THE HOPE STORE is never really interested in any of that. That this book isn’t dystopian fiction is fine of itself, but the problem is, it never really establishes what it is instead. This book has a concept; what it doesn’t have is an angle. It’s too low on plot and conflict to keep too strong of an arc.
Ostensibly, we follow Kazu and Luke as they struggle to get their business off the ground, but their business’ enemies, the Natural Hopers, never have enough agency or a sufficiently fleshed out agenda to leave much doubt that their business will succeed. Jada, in her struggles with suicidal depression and suicidal hopelessness, is a little more compelling, and she has a far more complete arc to boot. But Jada, compelling as her arc may sometimes be, is only about half this story. The characters in the book are also in need of a bit more fleshing out. Characterization is not helped by occasional corny lines of dialogue, like “Carry on, will ya. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200” and “To tell you the honest truth, Jada – 95% of any scientific discovery is pure science. But that last 5%? It’s a mystery. It’s magic.” Of the characters, the best is probably Jada, who throughout the book comes across as suitably sassy and clever.
THE HOPE STORE is never sure what it wants to be. It takes fairly interesting concepts and characters, and then it doesn’t do much with them. This is a novel with plenty of atmosphere and setup, but not nearly enough payoff.
~Chaz Baker for IndieReader