In the middle of the 21st century, the privileged children of New Middle Town are all about to receive a special treatment that turns them into well-mannered, obedient, model citizens. Seventeen-year-old Max, a prankster, graffitti-artist and misfit observes the changes with increascing concern. The "treatment" seems to be turning the kids into zombies, sapping them of creativity, initiative, and individuality, and his sister Ally is a target for the treatment. He and his best-friend Dallas escape the treatment, but must pretend to be zombies while they watch their world decay. When Max's family decides to flee New Middletown and head for the border, taking Dallas with them, Max's creativity becomes an unexpected bonus rather than a liability.
The world of New Middletown is fascinating, and eerily easy to imagine. Children are genetically engineered, and even within the engineered children, there are different classes. The extremely wealthy keep mixing cocktails until they create the most superior product, and it's no coincidence that the most superior children are exempt from the treatments. The financial crisis has become so bad that only the elite own homes and send their children to academic schools, and the rest live in permanently parked cars.
I loved that the narrator is a guy, and an authentic one. He's not a bad kid. but he's intelligent, witty and something of a smart-aleck. He does well in school without having to try to hard, he is consumed by art, and he is a sharp observer of his universe. I also loved the personality of his little sister Ally. She is a typical six-year-old- curious, compassionate, and completely innocent, and Max does his best to protect her from drawing attention. Their mother, a nurse, is aware of the treatments, but is virtually helpless to do anything to stop them. In fact, her passivity is a point of contention between her and Max, who is angry at her for being afraid, and not understanding that they have to escape.
While adults may sigh wistfully at the idea of rowdy teens into perfect children, teens will identify with the oppresiveness and pressures of Max's society. At what cost comes success? Are creativity and individuality a problem or an assest, and do we punish or reward free thinkers?
Poised for a possible sequel, this new novel from Canadian author Catherine Austen is all the things a good dystopian should be. It's plausible, frightening, and thought-provoking, and readers won't want to put it down.