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A corporate-controlled city decides to optimize its schools' efficiency by adjusting students' temperaments.
Max Connors and his family live in New Middletown, a city that puts the gate in gated community. Only the most fortunate live in one of Chemrose International's six cities, protected from the crime, terrorism and poverty of the world at large. But the socioeconomically isolated enclave populated by a mix of natural and genetically selected children has its share of troublemakers, like Max. A bundle of contradictions, Max is a sensitive artist, a caring older brother and a vandal who fights at school while maintaining impressive grades. And there is a lot of pressure to stay academically successful—those who don't keep up in academic school get sent to trade school as throwaways. Max worries that his younger sister, Ally, won't be able to keep up with her classmates. His anxiety increases when students start acting like perfectly obedient zombies after receiving a vaccine that's being deployed one grade at a time. Austen uses Max as a prism in this novel of ideas. As one of the few students able to secretly avoid the treatment, he demonstrates a remarkable and situational moral compass by becoming the only person trying to fight the program itself. While he dabbles in juvenile delinquency on a personal level, when Max sees a larger picture he confronts it, standing up for what he thinks is right despite differing amounts of personal risk. Just trying to keep ownership of his mind, Max's actions send ripples of consequences farther than he could possibly imagine.
A shaded morality tale about individuality. (Dystopia. 12 & up)
Posted October 10, 2011
Max, Ally and his mother live in a city called Middleton. Middleton is one of the few places left in the US with a decent school system, safe streets, healthy people, and little crime. But the administrators of Middleton think it could be even better. What if they found a way to get rid of misbehavior in children. Now, we're not talking about just the big ones like arson and fighting, but even the little ones, like giggling in class and expressing an opinion. As this is slowly taking effect on the children of all ages, few seem to speak out against it. Max's mother is one of those few and they begin to hatch a plan to escape from the city.
While, our main character is Max, I fell in love with his little sister Ally. Not the brightest in the bunch, she makes up for it in pure personality. Max, a fantastic graffiti artist, seems to be going through a fairly typical teenage angst stage that didn't seem overly original. The supporting characters tended to remain fairly flat throughout the book until they were effected by the new behavior "cure". Then they just turned into what Max calls zombies....a very appropriate name.
The plot centers around Max and his family and a few of his friends, especially his best friend Dallas, and their lives as they make plans to escape without being zombified. The plan they hatch is intricate and simple at the same time and keeps the story moving as we watch the town slowly become more and more suspicious of the family. There were times when the story seemed to drag a little, but perhaps that was done on purpose to show you how hard it was for the family to make it through. As a concept the story was amazing.
All Good Children is a great book. The world that Austen has created really is a whole lot like ours could be in, oh, 50 years (or less). The majority of the population is desperately poor and living in cars they cannot afford to fuel. The (what we now call) middle class minority works in some capacity with the booming elder care industry. Everyone has an RIG that connects them constantly to entertainment, work, communication, whatever (ie, it's what iPad aspires to be). A chemical spill has created a whole region's worth of people born with physical deformities...that compete on a reality TV show. The cities are dangerous places, and everyone has moved to gated communities (actual communities rather than housing developments) for their own safety. That they've given up a whole host of civil liberties in exchange for that safety bothers almost none of them. They even give up the right to know what vaccinations are being administered in their children's schools and why their children suddenly have no discernible personalities. It's cool though, because they're just so darn well-behaved.
Max is not well-behaved. He never has been, and if he has anything to do with it, he never will be. He, along with his best friend Dallas, struggle to maintain their own thoughts and personalities while pretending to be perfectly "good children." Their struggle was awful, but their friendship was great.
The fact that Max's mom is Black and his father was white is not a constant issue, but it is an important one. In their own community, it is a non-issue (or it's supposed to be), but outside is another story. Without the visual aid of their father, Max's mom is always eyed with suspicion while traveling with Max and his sister Ally.
Though it is published by Orca, it is not technically a hi-lo (high interest, low reading level). It's appropriate in both areas of measurement for the 12 and up set. It is, however, about a couple high school seniors and could be used as reading material for the same. I think it will be great for reluctant readers and dystopian lovers alike.
Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program