This is one of those books that just hits me right in the feels. And, truthfully, it bugs me that the novel doesn’t have a higher average rating. To be fair, I can understand why because by the time you’ve reached the end of the novel you’re just frustrated and upset. The main character can, at times, be a bit of an ass. And for some readers, that might not be their sort of book and that’s fine. But I do often find myself feeling as though this book doesn’t get the credit it deserves for being so fantastic.
Pam Bachorz explores an incredibly unique world one cannot help but love to hate. The story takes readers into a horrifying authoritarian community through the eyes of an amazingly interesting and dynamic young man who has been fighting the control of his father for years. And it’s brilliant. It’s somewhat Stepford Wives-esque, but still manages to be uniquely its own.
Bachorz touches base with some important and fascinating questions people have been faced with for years. What are we willing to give up for perfection? What will we do to keep the people we love? How far is a person willing to go? And she does it in such a way that it gives us a view into a dystopian world that a great many blindly believe is a utopia.
And how could you not sympathize with the main character? How could you not find him enticing? Her novel is told from the point of view of an almost pervy little shit who I simply couldn’t help loving every step of the way. The brainwashed town of Candor took someone who could have been less plagued and disgusted with the world around him and put him in the scary role of being the only person in town who really knew what was going on.
And that’s just the beginning.
[major spoilers from this point forward]
He’s spent his entire life watching the people around him become exactly like everyone else. He’s watched problem children become perfect little specimens, adults turned drones in his father’s vision of a perfect world, and watched every single thing that could ever be unique about a person get slowly erased as the people spend more and more time listening to music peppered with “messages” that are meant to control each and every citizen living there.
And when “perfect” Oscar Banks meets Nia he knows, but basically decides for himself, that she’s special.
So when she’s suddenly taken and everything unique about her is slowly erased until she becomes just like everyone else, Oscar’s world quickly falls apart. The perfect persona he’s kept up for years begins to dissolve, the people around him grow more and more suspicious, and Oscar himself begins to make more mistakes than he can afford to.
To save himself and the girl he has grown to love, Oscar decides he has to leave Candor. It is here that the story takes a despairing turn for on the night he expects to escape with Nia, his father–the orchestrator of this “perfect little town”–finds out.
I’ve always gone back and forth with how I felt about the ending. As a reader and a reader alone, it is emotionally draining and by far one of the most impressive acts of selflessness I have ever seen. It is also incredibly depressing. There’s an insane mixture of hope, happiness, and utter despair. As a writer, I believe it is beyond impressive. Of course we readers always expect the best for the characters we read about. Of course we always want the happy ending. And I believe that when the happy endings don’t happen, many of us get spiteful.
But the thing is: this book was brilliant. The fact that we didn’t get a happy ending doesn’t make it any less brilliant. I go back and forth on whether or not I think there should be a sequel, but I can guarantee if there were, we could not help ourselves from getting the second book. It’s simply too tempting not to. Bachorz’ writing is impressive. And the ending, while sad, is a risky and amazing decision on her part. It leaves me both wishing for more, and happy to have no satisfactory ending–because the whole point of the novel is to have the feeling we’re left with when we think about poor Oscar Banks and what he had to go through.
It means something. It means something important.