Friday, February 17, 2012

All Good Children Book Review

 Author: Catherine Austen. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Orca Book Publishers. ISBN: 9781554698243.
Annotation: Rebellious Max Connors, who lives in the idyllic town of New Middleton with his mother and little sister, Ally, becomes suspicious after his fellow high school classmates morph into complacent, well-mannered drones after his town starts Nesting: the New Educational Support Treatment.
Personal thoughts: I had high hopes for this novel, but, sadly, found myself disappointed. The concept of Nesting was interesting, but not enough to keep my attention, let alone that of a teen or tween reader. In terms of dystopian novels that feature conformity as a main topic, there are many better options available. I think that the author has some good ideas, and hope that her next novel is effective at bringing them to life in an enjoyable way.
Plot summary: In the not-too-distant future, rebellious teen Max Connors lives in the city of New Middleton, one of the many planned communities designed to ensure prosperity and happiness for its residents. Succeeding in New Middleton, however, depends on a lot of factors: wealth, status, and genetic makeup. Children born without any kind of genetic treatment are looked down upon; those of higher status having been created using the best embryos provided by their parents. After his father’s death, Max, his mother and his six-year-old sister, Ally, left their large New Middleton mansion for an apartment. Although their prestige has gone down, Max and Ally are still lucky enough to attend academic school, something their mom works hard to pay for, that will ensure their future success in the working world. Although he has always been more interested in painting and hanging out with his friends than in his schoolwork, Max becomes suspicious when he notices the children at Ally’s school behaving strangely. Instead of running around like most six-year-olds, Ally’s classmates are rigid, standing in straight lines, following orders and speaking in short, rehearsed sounding phrases. As the weeks pass, this behavior seems to travel upward by grade level, and Max eventually realizes that a new educational program called Nesting is causing his classmates to be turned into complacent drones, devoid of initiative or feeling. Max’s mother manages to prevent Max or Ally from receiving the initial treatment, but how long can the Connors family pretend to be normal in a world where standing out has become a crime?
Review:  Although it contains some interesting ideas, All Good Children, unfortunately, is not intriguing enough to shine in the sea of dystopian literature available for teens. The concept of conformity is one often explored in young adult novels. Many dystopian stories toy with varying degrees of forced complacency, and All Good Children engages in this as well. The Nesting concept is, arguably, the most interesting part of the novel when viewed as an allegory for the state of education in America and its reliance on things like standardized testing, etc. Nesting is described as making children easy to educate because they are all the same. Class sizes can be increased to 50 students per teacher, grades improve, and everyone is happy. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this allegory was the author’s goal in writing this novel for a young adult audience. When viewed simply as a dystopian novel, All Good Children is lacking in terms of pacing, character development, and overall execution. Parts of the plot were completely unbelievable as well, making the story too far-fetched to be relatable. If the author’s goal was to make a statement about education in the present day, this is not evident enough to be effective. Overall, All Good Children is a novel with a lot of promise that, ultimately, falls flat.
Genre: Science-Fiction
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Awaken by Katie Kacvinsky, Scored by Lauren McLaughlin.
Themes:  Conformity, dystopian, conspiracy, friendship.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Publishers Weekly.  
Series Information: N/A
Discussion questions: 
-     Do you think that the government will ever institute a program like Nesting in schools? Why or why not?
-     Why do you think the adults in New Middleton were so supportive of Nesting?
-      If you were Max, what would you do if you saw your friends turn into “zombies”?

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