All Good Children by Catherine Austen
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
It's the middle of the twenty-first century and the elite children of New Middletown are lined up to receive a treatment that turns them into obedient, well-mannered citizens. Maxwell Connors, a fifteen-year-old prankster, misfit and graffiti artist, observes the changes with growing concern, especially when his younger sister, Ally, is targeted. Max and his best friend, Dallas, escape the treatment, but must pretend to be "zombies" while they watch their freedoms and hopes decay. When Max's family decides to take Dallas with them into the unknown world beyond New Middletown's borders, Max's creativity becomes an unexpected bonus rather than a liability.
This floated across my radar for a few reasons – the least of which included it being a White Pine nominee (an awesome award set we have up here in Canada). It was completely different than what I expected – which was just another type of dystopia.
And I wasn’t wrong, but Ms. Austen tackled the utopian/dystopian theme in an interestingly human way. It made some great allusions to today’s society – does your child have too much energy? Are they unfocused? There’s a drug for that! But Ms. Austen took it even further – what if all kids were treated, whether they needed it or not? What if every one of them became the model citizen only uninvolved parents could love?
We find out. Little is known about how this utopia nestled in a dystopia came to be – but we know that the people in the walls will do anything to keep it perfect. But not everyone feels the same. And instead of a “Hunger Games”-esque uprising, we instead watch as a family struggles between what’s right, and staying safe in the walls of their society and falling in line.
The beauty also comes from Max and his art. He’s a pretty typical teen, with a little bit of an attitude, and a love of art as expression. His art isn’t appreciated – where graffiti has become an almost subset artform in today’s society, in Max’s utopia, it is not tolerated. But his bold streak still gets his work – and his magnum opus piece – out there to be seen. I won’t give away the twist (although most savvy readers will catch on – I didn’t until the last moment), but it’s wonderful and subtle and makes me eager to read more of Ms. Austen’s writing.
“All Good Children” is a standalone – it’s not slated to be a series, and so the story wraps up nicely. Well-plotted, with characters you want to hug and shake all at the same time, I can see where it got it’s nomination, and I wouldn’t be disappointed to see it win.Many thanks to Special K for this review.