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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

The Passengers is a terrifying look at the power of social media

The Passengers by John Marrs

Genre: Thriller

Published 2019, 400 pages

You may remember, my sister Donna and I choose two books a month to read "together" as Buddy Reads. This is the first one of July.


Such an interesting premise - England prioritizes the first mandate for AI run, driverless cars. The claim is that they're cheaper to run, better for the environment, and fewer accidents. And, they're perfectly safe - unhackable. Well, that obviously proves to be false and a hacker takes control of 8 cars and threatens to kill the passengers in each in order to make his point that computers CAN'T make all the decisions. The hacker televises the whole event on all social media sites until the news channels pick it up - the whole world watches.

The main body of the story is about the backstory of each of the passengers, the secrets and lies and messes they have in their lives and some of them are doozies (no spoilers here)! There's a veteran, pregnant lady, an aging movie star, a single homeless man, a husband and wife (in separate cars) - the wife a cop, the husband a landscaper, an immigrant woman who doesn't speak English and a mother of five. Adding a layer of suspense is there is a panel of five people who are tasked with choosing one passenger to save.

After learning a bit of their back story, the chapters move back to the 5 person panel who are locked in a room and the difficult choices they are forced to make about which passenger is worthy of saving - only one will live. That sure adds another layer of suspense.

The other main character is technology. I'd even say it's the "bad guy". Everyone's reliance on their smart phones, their FitBits, their computer watches, laptops, etc. that all track and record every aspect our our lives. What if a government harnessed all that information and really used it? This book takes that idea to a scary conclusion.


This was a tension filled, suspenseful, story that illustrated the power and control over lives that social media and technology have. I found myself disgusted with the way society gawked and "liked" and "followed" and "hashtagged" the terrifying situation of the passengers. And yet, that really happens. Some days I'm happy I have access to FB when it connects me to a distant family member or friend. Some days I'm irritated with the political or negative comments. I'm appreciative when Google works and tells me how to get somewhere or how to fix a broken lamp and some days I'm dismayed when something I've shopped for shows up in my FB or IG feed. It's definitely a love/hate relationship!

But, back to the book - I found the passenger stories fascinating and the way they are revealed is excellent. I did notice that while I could keep all the passengers and their stories straight, I could NOT keep the jury panel folks straight except the two with the strongest personalities. The others didn't make much of an impression. A small quibble, to be sure. The conclusion has a twist or two that really made my head spin.

Donna and I talked on the phone about our reactions, so I'll paraphrase her thoughts below.


Her first enthusiastic comment was "it's so original. I don't remember ever reading anything like this." That's high praise indeed because she reads a LOT. She was in total agreement about the way the passengers are introduced and the way their back stories are handled.

We discussed which passenger we would choose to save if we were on the panel (not going to tell you). It's easier to think about that when it's just a mental exercise, but for real? Seeing terrified people locked in their cars hurtling toward their death and you can only save one? No thanks!

In trying to figure out what we really might do, we realized that while we heard each passenger talk for a few minutes to 'make their case' to be saved, what's missing from the scenario is that we can't see them. We all make so many snap judgments based on first impressions of people's appearances and that component might make a big difference - is the lady cop a stern, unfriendly looking woman? Is the homeless man covered in tattoos? Is the woman with five kids black? Asian? Arabic?

Donna admitted that there was a point where she figured out one of the twists - I totally didn't foresee it. So she got to gloat for a minute! The ending is a satisfying wrap up.

We definitely agree that this book is exciting and well written and ...... would make a fabulous movie or TV show! You should look for this book.

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