As a parent, would you want your teenagers to be perfect? Always doing their homework on time, never talking back, never drinking, not even thinking about having sex. Would you be willing to sacrifice a bit of creativity and personality in favor of obedience? In favor of your children's safety? This is the deal that parents make when they move to Candor, Florida. The kids aren't given a choice. Most of the kids, anyway. Oscar, the son of Candor's founder, is a bit different. Oscar is able to hear, and sometimes resist, the endless stream of subliminal Messages that bombard Candor's citizens, brainwashing them. He's even able to develop his own special, counter-programming Messages, which he uses to help a select few "clients" to escape from Candor.
Oscar hides in plain sight, pretending to be a model citizen, admired by all of his brainwashed peers. But inside, he's a rebel. Oscar's carefully constructed balance is threatened, however, when he falls for a new girl named Nia. Nia is quirky and grouchy, with black fingernails and a passion for art. Oscar really doesn't want to see Nia changed into a Candor Stepford teen. His choices are to help her escape, and thus lose her forever, or keep her close, and risk watching her personality fade away.
Candor is fascinating and chilling. The idea that people could be manipulated by hearing a stream of subliminal messages is just near enough to possible to be frightening. The idea that people could choose such a lifestyle knowingly is horrifying. (The adults are subject to messages, too - they eat well, don't smoke, etc.) Oscar, who isn't even sure whether his thoughts are his own, is a sympathetic and believable protagonist.
Backhorz's writing is lean but descriptive, with lots of short paragraphs. Very reluctant reader-friendly. For example:
"Sure, I have a girlfriend. But she's so buttoned up, I only keep her as part of my disguise." (Chapter 1)
"She's got a smile on her face that I bet tastes like champagne". (Chapter 10)
"Most kids go to the movies. I guess that's like other places. But here, we share a cardboard boat of carrot sticks. Popcorn could kill you: greasy, salty, and let's not think about the choking risk.
Everyone gets their own cartons of milk. It's not sanitary to share drinks. We all know that." (Chapter 13)
Candor is a fast-paced, first-person novel. It's thought-provoking, atmospheric, and more than a bit scary, with flashes of dry humor. It reminds me a bit of S. A. Bodeen's The Compound. Candor did leave me with some questions that I would have liked to see resolved (but that I won't share, for fear of spoilers). Perhaps there will be a sequel one day. But in any event, I enjoyed it. I think that it will be a hit with readers, boys and girls, teens and adults.
Publication Date: September 22, 2009
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the ARC, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: Sharon Loves Books and Cats, Reading Rocks, and Tea Cozy.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.