Thursday, September 29, 2011

Early Review - All Good Children by Catherine Austen (3.5/5 stars)

Reading level: Middle Grade/Young Adult
Genre: Dystopia
Size: 312 pages
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Release Date: October 1, 2011
ISBN: 978-1554698240
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I got an advanced reading copy of this book through Librarything's Early Reviewer program. This was a great book, well written and engaging, a little scary too. There was only one major flaw with the story that kept me from absolutely loving this book.

Max, his sister, and his mother live together in Middleton. Middleton is supposedly one of the few cities left where humanity is doing pretty well. When Max and his family come back from a funeral in Atlanta, Max notices something strange about Ally's classmates. Ally's classmates don't play, they don't laugh, they are like perfect little robots. Then Max finds out about a vaccination initiative in the school system. The children are being given vaccines that make them easier to teach; they are less likely to question things and obey everything. For now Max and his sister are safe, but it won't be long until the vaccines are given to older kids as well. Then Max and his family will have to make a choice; stay and fight, be vaccinated, or flee.

Max is a fun character. He is super smart but also a prankster and kind of obnoxious. He loves his family though, and despite all the trouble he gets in to, you can really tell. His little sister, Ally, is adorable and also a lot of fun. His mother is a strong woman but is caught between protecting her family by keeping her job and protecting her family by going against the system.

The story is easy to read and very well written, the plot was engaging and the tension was constantly building as more and more kids are vaccinated and zombiefied. It was a hard book to put down and really drew me in.

Parts of this story are very creepy; both from a kid's point of view and from a parent's point of view. The parents aren't given a choice; the vaccination is mandatory (much like most current day vaccinations) but without any science to back them up. When kids have bad reactions to the vaccination it is brushed off and ignored. When Max's mom tries to speak out against the vaccinations it is implied that she is mentally unfit to take care of her children and that if she continues to be a problem they will be taken away from her. As I said very subtly creepy and terrifying.

The book brings up a lot of issues about race (Max and his family are black), freedom of speech, and free will. There is lots to ponder and think about here.

I have one absolutely huge problem with this book that made the story very hard for me to accept. While there are a couple mummers of adults being upset by the vaccinations (one teacher bemoans the lack of creativity in his new zombified class, and Max's mom speaks out against it during an info session at school) the vast majority of adults seem pleased by it. I find this incredibly hard to believe. Knowing how protective parents are of their kids, I can not believe there isn't more retaliation. I mean happy laughing young children are turned into blank-faced robots. Seriously? Is any parent going to tolerate that?

Throughout the book most of the adults are happy that their children are so much easier to handle and take so much less energy to deal with. Really? I understand this is aimed at a middle grade crowd, but how many parents out there would accept their children being turned into robots...and not only accept it but be happy about it? I just can't accept this premise for the story; especially in the given society where people are doing fairly well and not desperately trying to eke out a living.

Another minor problem I had with this book was another thing I had trouble finding believable. How could you get a drug that would react with the majority of kids in such a way that it would make them all talk and act the same? All the kids in this book parrot each other after being vaccinated and are eerily the same. I understand a drug making kids more open to suggestions; but having them all act the same and like robots because of a drug is a bit of a stretch.

So one major flaw, why are the parents/adults so accepting of their kids being brainwashed? Especially when it occurs in such and abrupt way over such a small amount of time. If you can suspend your disbelief of this major assumption, then this is a great book. It wraps up nicely, there could be a sequel to it, but most things are concluded cliffhangers or anything.

Overall a fascinating idea and world. It is super creepy to consider schools requiring parents to zombify/vaccinate their children. I enjoyed the characters, the book was well written, and the premise was interesting. I just couldn't suspend my belief enough to buy into the fact that normal parents would applaud their children having their personalities and creative taken away; there would be more of an uproar. I also had trouble believing that a drug could make all children act and talk exactly the same way. So, while this was well-written and interesting I had a lot of trouble buying into the premise of the story. Still it was a great read; I would recommend for fans of dystopian stories.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- 100+ Reading Challenge

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