- "To survive this game, choosing dare is your only option"
- ―Nerve's tagline
Vee doesn't know if she has the guts to play NERVE, an online game of high-stakes dares. But whoever's behind the game knows exactly what she wants, enticing her with lust-worthy prizes and a super hot partner. With Ian on her team, its easy to agree to another dare. And another. And another. At first its thrilling, as the manipulative audience, or ‘Watchers’, cheer them on to riskier challenges. But things quickly get out of hand.
Will Vee and Ian risk their lives for the Grand Prize dare? Or will they loose their NERVE?
In the modern day United States, a new underground online game show called NERVE has been attracting the attention of both teens and adult investors alike. High schoolers across the country sign up every month to film risky dares assigned to them live for viewers to pay and watch. If selected for the live rounds of that month, players complete dares of increasing difficulty to win expensive prizes purchased with their viewer’s watching fees, to provide motivation for greater risk and celebrity style reactions to gain viewership. Some money from the Watchers also goes to hiring live videographers to follow the Players as the dares progressively get faster, riskier, and far more illegal. Hundreds of players resign from or fail to complete the dares throughout the Saturday until there are around 12 people left, then small groups are united in two different cities for that month for a few hours to complete group dares in an all-or-nothing final round. These players often get free college tuition, exotic vacations, and fame from the media.
The prologue explains the situation of Abigail, a winner from the March games (likely in Richmond) who escapes to a state park to avoid the paparazzi. Tired of fame, she fails to realize a stalker followed her into the woods, and must jump down a waterfall to avoid getting kidnapped at gunpoint by her crazed fan. Abigail is referenced several times later in the novel, but most of the characters believe she staged the trip for attention, until they realize the true horrors of the game from which she was trying to escape.
Three weeks later, the main storyline opens on the Thursday of the next NERVE weekend. The main protagonist Vee is a junior at the fictional Chinook High School in Seattle, one of the two cities hosting a finals group that Saturday. Although a fan of watching, she is very shy and is concerned with the opening night of their school’s theatre production, of which she is the stage manager. Her best friend Sydney is the beautiful female lead, whose character must kiss Vee’s crush Matthew. Sydney tells Vee of her desire to be in NERVE, but is too busy with the show and is interrupted by Matthew, who gives her flowers before the two head to a cast party. Vee prepares to head home before her 10pm curfew, but Tommy the lighting guy, who has a crush on Vee, stops her to talk. Jealous of Sydney and Matthew, Vee decides to quickly go with Tommy to a coffee shop and film an entry dare for NERVE, to show Matthew that she isn’t a pushover.
The two go to the shop and Tommy films Vee pouring water on herself in front of all the customers while yelling “cold water makes me hot!” but didn’t realize she was wearing a cotton shirt, so it becomes see through. The two try to delete the inappropriate upload, but fail and Vee speeds home to concerned parents. They gave her the curfew after an incident a few months prior in which Vee parked her car in the closed garage and fell asleep with the engine still on, requiring her hospitalization with carbon monoxide poisoning. Her parents and many others at school believed it to be an attempted suicide, even though Vee was just tired from a night of helping Sydney learn lines.
On Friday, Vee goes the through the school day and whole musical paranoid that people have seen her application video, but the only one who mentions it is Sydney. She is slightly mad at Vee for applying when she couldn’t, but forgives Vee when she sees how much she regrets the video, and makes her promise not to continue if offered. The cast leaves after the show for another party, and Vee is once again alone with Tommy. Vee has an email from NERVE offering her expensive designer shoes from her wish list if she completes another dare, and Tommy warns her that the prize was too specific to her, meaning the game is being run by hackers from the Dark Web who illegally collect player information. Vee is willing to risk it for the shoes, so the two drive back to the coffee shop for the next dare.
Vee must close her eyes and sing “One-Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” loudly until another player Ian comes in, stands in line, and buys her a latte. Ian’s dare is to get her to say that he was her “best lover ever”, which Vee exclaims to the crowd as they both win their prizes. Both have now gained enough fame from Watchers to have a live video crew, much to the dismay of Tommy, who is also jealous of the romantic moves between Vee and Ian.
On Saturday, Sydney is furious with Vee, and makes sure her kiss with Matthew in the musical is much longer than normal. Vee gets an offer to participate in the live rounds of NERVE, and gladly excepts as revenge on Sydney. She downloads the phone app for the game that blocks all calls and texts and is once again paired with Ian. The two must go to a Purity Promisers event at a bowling alley and ask 20 people for condoms, causing extreme discomfort and anger throughout. The two are thrown out by an angry crowd lead by a man in an expensive suit, but completed the dare so Vee gets a day at the spa and a dress. Ian wins a free bus ticket to any destination.
Although all normal calls and texts are blocked, NERVE still gives them instructions and notifications through the unique ringing tone of a child taunting “na-na na-na boo boo” in the theme of dares. The two now have a following and win $20 for each 100 new Watchers they acquire, and the next live dare is offered. The two must travel to a dangerous part of town and find prostitutes. Vee must pretend to be one and find someone offering $100 for her services, and Ian must find one willing to give him services for free. Ian pretends to be the son of Mick Jagger and completes his part, and Vee eventually finds a perverted cop willing to pay $100, who attempts to arrest the two after Vee wins her prize and runs away. Vee gets a new phone and Ian wins expensive camping equipment.
They hear the child taunting ringtone again. The next dare is more personal: Vee gets a $3000 shopping spree for going to the closing cast party and confronting Sydney. She must critique Sydney’s performance and tell her to back off of Matthew, while Ian must act like a thug and physically threaten and fight the other cast members. After the heated arguments, Vee and Ian leave the party and almost resign from NERVE, until they hear the ringtone and see they are in the Seattle finals. Ian will get a new car and huge credit for gas, and Vee will get a full ride to fashion school if the two go to a club downtown to complete the group dares. The two drive to the club, and complete filmed interviews with the hosts of the finals, Guy and Gayle.
On the way to the competition room in the top floor lounge, Vee and Ian notice a strange row of chairs along one wall as well as a curtain on the other, but continue through. The room contains hidden drawers and panels, as well has robotically locked doors that lead to other chambers. They meet the five other players they will have to cooperate with for the all-or-nothing dares. Ty and Daniella (A gangster couple), Micki and Jen (A lesbian couple), and a loner named Samuel, whose partner was hospitalized during the live dares from an allergic reaction while swimming through a pool of jello. The group begins the 3 hour finals with optional ice breakers for cash: Introducing themselves, guessing how many viewers they have, drinking German beers to make the dares harder and more interesting, and making out for the cameras, all dares which Vee, Ian, and Samuel mostly sit out of.
The first two of four required dares involves prank phone calls. The first is each player calling their ex and telling them lies such as “I was cheating on you when we dated”. Vee must call Tommy and tell him three reasons they could never be together, which she thinks is easy as Tommy is just a friend. It turns out he really did love her and is crushed. Vee is shocked but must continue with the second phone dare in which the players must call another’s parents and tell them that they’ve been in a serious accident, then quickly hang up. Ty calls Vee’s parents and she panics and yells to them that she’s fine, causing NERVE to give her a penalty that will be administered in the final dare. The third dare involves the kids going through doors leading to individualized psychological trauma rooms for 15 minutes.
Vee waits with Daniella and Jen while the 4 others go to their rooms. They calm each other by concluding the rooms couldn’t be that bad, as a girl named Abigail won last month just fine by sitting in a room with live snakes, and none of the them fear animals. They also discuss how Abigail was obsessed with attention and wanted to be a movie star, gossiping about how she supposedly jumped off a waterfall just for attention, not knowing that they would also be creepily stalked in the weeks following NERVE. The first group emerges from their rooms dazed and distressed, and Vee is concerned as Ian’s eyes are bloodshot. The last 3 girls head to their personalized rooms to be locked for the 15 minutes. Vee’s is just a plain driver’s seat where she must buckle and listen to music for the duration. Vee is relived at the easy dare and buckles while a song she loves comes on. The room starts to smell like gas fumes and she realizes in horror that Tommy was right: NERVE has collected information about her and is recreating the night in the garage when she almost died from carbon monoxide. Panicked, she finds the belt to be locked and is trapped in agony while the gas floods the room, screaming for the audience to call 911 the entire time.
After the doors unlock, Vee returns to find everyone shell shocked, and the hosts Guy and Gayle tell the players they will receive even more prizes if they continue to the final dare. Ian is offered an emancipation lawyer and Vee is offered an internship with a design house in New York, and the 7 decide to complete the final dare. The group sits for a few minutes while the other finalist group finishes their dares in the other city, then Guy announces that the whole country is solely tuning in for this Seattle finale. A drawer opens to reveal loaded pistols, and Vee tries to escape when she spots a drain in the middle of the floor that will be used to collect the blood of shot contestants. All the doors are locked from the outside, and she is forced to watch a gun handling film with the others when suddenly the punishment Vee got from the phone call dare is put into place. A door opens and a blindfolded Sydney and Tommy are thrown in, then the door is relocked.
For the final dare, every player must pick a target that also has a gun or the two friends of Vee and aim their guns at them. Tommy whispers to Vee that he called the cops before he and Sydney tried to enter the nightclub and rescue them, only to be abducted and tossed in the game. All they have to do is stall until the police break in and arrest the Dark Web game show hosts. The players point their guns and all fall to the ground when the lights go out and gun shots are heard. They quickly realize this was only special effects used to trigger someone to actually fire, but no one did. Vee and Ian realize the row of chairs in the hallway outside the room and curtain are like a stage, and that the rich people who fund NERVE must be watching through a one-way mirror just a few inches away, so the two pick up the table in the room and smash it into the wall, revealing it to be thin glass. Vee escapes through the hole and Ian fights off the other players, who realize that if Vee leaves they will all lose their prizes.
Vee was right about the rich patrons having front row seats, and sprints to their closing elevator that is about to bring them to the first floor. A rich man in an expensive suit blows her a kiss, she recognizes him as the charparone from the Purity Promisers event and realizes that he was given a cameo appearance on the show. She catches the door before it closes and pulls him out at gunpoint, letting the others escape. Vee steals his driver’s license for the police, makes him stop the other players from using their guns on the threat of losing their prizes, and extracts Ian, Sydney, and Tommy from the dark playing room. The four back into the elevator and leave the NERVE controller on the playing floor with the other confused contestants. Vee finds out Tommy fed them information about the garage incident for the psychological dare, and injures him before pressing the elevator button to stop at the club floor rather than the lobby. They plan to take a back exit to avoid NERVE’s armed security waiting at the front.
Vee, Ian, and Sydney exit to the club level and find the crowd thrilled to see them in the same building. A large TV shows NERVE has been playing highlights during the whole escape fiasco, and Vee sees footage of Ian in his psychological room. The reason all of his prizes are travel/escape themed is because his father has physically abused him all of his life, and he needs a lawyer and supplies to help him get out of his toxic home situation. The DJ invites Vee to make a speech, and she warns against the danger and illegality of the game, but no one listens. The crowd picks them up and parades them around, and a fan steals Vee’s wallet. The police finally arrive, but with no evidence for them the three teens escape through the back door, noticing Tommy has already left in his car. Ian drops off Sydney and gives his number to Vee, who promises to see him after the games are over.
Vee and Ian remain a couple after the games, and use their fame to try and unmask the Deep Web patrons in charge of NERVE. The rich man with the suit denies all involvement, but luckily Tommy has redeemed himself by starting to track down the real identities of the finale hosts Guy and Gayle for Vee, who eventually forgives him for telling her garage story. Vee comes back from a run to find a mysterious package from New York. To her horror, it contains the shoes that she won from the coffee shop dare, along with a creepy note that says “I’ll never get tired of watching you, and can’t wait to see you play again.” Disgusted, Vee throws the shoes away, and is about to forget NERVE for good when her phone makes a sound that closes the story with a cliffhanger: The unique ring tone of the child taunting that she has another dare.(adapted from Wikipedia entry)
- On the first page, Ryan dedicates the book "for James, my grand prize".
- Lara Croft - When Tommy agrees to film her dare, Vee thought she felt like Lara Croft.
Lionsgate bought the film rights to the novel, and in 2014 The Hollywood Reporter reported that Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman would direct the film adaptation. The film was released in the United States on July 27.