You know those stories that just stick with you? The ones that, while maybe not the absolute best book in the entire world that you want to read over and over, you can't seem to stop thinking about? (Have you had enough with the rhetorical questions?) CANDOR by Pam Bachorz is now one of those books for me.
I finished it in one sitting, curled up in my bed yesterday, and I haven't stopped thinking about it. It even invaded my dreams. Okay, I did read it right before bed but still. It was disturbing. In a creepily good way.
Here's the back copy: In a town where his father brainwashes everyone, Oscar Banks has found a way to secretly fight the subliminal Messages that turn even the most troubled kids into model citizens. On the outside, he's the perfect Candor teen, and no one knows that he's built an entire business around helping new kids escape before the Messages take hold.
But then Nia Silva moves to town, and Oscar thinks she's perfect exactly the way she is. Soon he must make a choice: let Nia be lost to the brainwashing, or help her stay special and risk himself in the process.
I heard about the book first on Twitter (thank you, @EgmontUSA and @EgmontGal!) and was intrigued. As a teacher, I've had visions of brainwashing my students so that they'll all actually study and get their homework done and turned in on time (hey, a girl can dream) but, you know, it's not really feasible or moral. And I'm sure there are many out there who would like to change something about their loved ones, to make them somehow better. Pam Bachorz took the What If of it all and ran with it.
The main character, Oscar Banks, is the son of the town's founder and has worked hard to be the perfect son while avoiding the most subversive of the Messages piped through his town at all times. At first, I didn't really like him too much. He reminded me of those entitled rich kids who think that they can get and do whatever they want because they throw around their parents' money. But then I got to know him and I really felt for the kid. I was rooting for him to succeed with his plan to stay himself (rather than cave completely to the Messages and become the Stepford-like kid his father wants) and keep the girl he's fallen in love with whole, too.
I like the way the author built in consequences for moving to this planned community and listening to the Messages. People can never leave. At least not permanently. If they leave and don't have their special "music" to listen to, they'll go nuts and kill themselves. The now-perfect children do go off to college but they can attend only a select few, must live in special dorms and keep playing their special music while away. And I really like the back story the author's created, the why of the Messages--why Oscar's dad started them in the first place. Okay, I have to stop or I'll give away the whole story and I don't want to do that to you! Just read it. So good.
CANDOR is a fast-moving, disturbing debut novel. It reminds me (in a good way) of THE GIVER by Lois Lowry in that it's a society of people who have tried to create a utopia for themselves but succeeded only in creating a town of clones, where everyone thinks and acts the same.
Author Website: http://www.pambachorz.com/