Sunday, May 3, 2009

Candor, candidly

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the first-ever librarian and reviewer preview for Egmont USA (which is pronounced EGG-mahnt, in case you were wondering). Though Egmont is new in town, they've already got the popular kids clamoring to sit at their table. Their fall list has a really nice mix of genres and formats for all ages, picture books through YA. I had a difficult time deciding which of their books I want to read first, but because I like dystopias, I went for Candor by Pam Bachorz, coming in September, 2009.

The ironically named town of Candor is based on Celebration, Florida, the town that Disney built. In Candor, everyone eats healthy food. The kids respect their parents. Houses are always painted and have neatly trimmed lawns and white picket fences. Everyone and everything is perfect, and the king of all the perfect kids is Oscar Banks, the son of the town's founder. In truth, Oscar is the least perfect kid, but he's perfect at keeping up appearances. Oscar knows that the reason everyone in Candor is so docile, and the kids so dedicated to school and the "right" activities, is because they're all being controlled with subliminal messages. The Messages are Oscar's way to make a profit, helping rich kids escape Candor. He's got to be careful, though, because those who are caught working against Candor are subjected to complete mind erasure.

All is status quo until Oscar meets Nia, an artist with a mind of her own. Despite the Messages that are supposed to keep Nia in line and make her forget about art, Nia continues to draw and defy. Oscar can't help himself: He falls in love. Falling for Nia might be the most dangerous thing Oscar has ever done. If it were up to the Messages, Oscar wouldn't so much as hold Nia's hand. But Oscar has been working against the Messages for years and he's not about to stop now.

Think of this as The Stepford Wives for YA. The settings are very similar, perfect towns with sinister undertones. Oscar's constant struggle between his own will and the Messages does slow the book down a little in the middle, but his devotion to Nia and his plans for the future of Candor step up the pace towards the end. Bachorz raises a lot of questions about the meaning of the word "perfection" through a narrator who can't even be wholly honest with himself, much less the reader. Candor is not an action-packed dystopian thriller like Uglies or Gone, but it's definitely thought-provoking. I can see its appeal to fans of The Compound; the two have a lot in common.

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