Ahoy there me mateys! I received this sci-fi eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. So here be me honest musings . . .
inspection (Josh Malerman)
Author: Josh Malerman
Publication Date: TODAY!!! (hardcover/e-book)
I have become a major fan of Malerman’s work. Ye tend to always get interesting concepts, compelling characters, and ambiguous endings. This book had all of those things even if the execution was less than desired. I also read this one without reading the blurb so I had no idea what the story was about before picking it up.
The concept is that there are two towers in the wilderness set up for an experiment called the Parenthood. The goal is to raise children to the best of their potential with a focus on mathematics and the sciences. To do that the curriculum must be strictly adhered to. The distractions that must be avoided at all costs a) religion; and b) the opposite sex. The complete focus ended up being on gender. One tower is for boys and the other for girls – 26 of each gender and named after the letters of the alphabet. Raised from infants, these children have reached the age of 12 and puberty is on the horizon. The Parenthood is determined to protect their innocent charges from the ravages of their hormones. But what if these pre-teens start questioning their elders?
The book is set up in four parts 1) the alphabets boys; 2) needs; 3) K; and 4) spoiled rotten. What is most interesting about this book to me was the structure. The first part relates the boys’ life in the tower and ye are introduced to (boy) J. I actually really enjoyed J’s perspectives and character and watching his journey was the most satisfying part of the book. In the second part ye be introduced to an adult in the facility who be having “the guilts” and is part of the propaganda writing machine. These are interspersed with (boy) J’s doubts. I liked the juxtaposition of the two.
The third part introduces the girl’s side of things and how they are questioning their environment. I loved that the girl’s are substantially further along than the boys in both education and rationale and are so practical in discovering answers. The girls resort to action and the boys don’t. Nice change of the usual. And of course part four is where all hell breaks loose.
There were major problems with the book’s structure and plot. One is that the pacing is extremely slow, especially at the beginning. I didn’t have trouble following the story because of this but because both the questions and answers are handed out piecemeal, the flow of the writing was impeded in multiple parts.
Two, I thought the motivation of all the adults were rudimentary at best. Only the “M.O.M.”, “D.A.D.”, and two novelists really have any personality. All the others are lost in the background, basically nameless, and rather pointless. And yet there are tons of adults, like cooks, guards, etc., mentioned for such a large facility. I wanted better details on how the towers functioned. Also the adults were kinda naive and one-dimensional in their thinking just so they could underestimate the 12-year olds. And seriously what do those “M.O.M.” and “D.A.D.” acronyms stand for? Did I miss it?
Third, I thought that even the concept of gender was dealt with in the most arbitrary and surface way. For example, all the children are assumed to be heteronormative. It would have been nice to have some nuance to sexual development in an arena where sex as a concept has been avoided altogether. And some things were just plain stupid. Boy meets girl for the first time and basically immediately start kissing and making out. Life altering facts have been discovered, they are complete strangers, and yet they take a break and jump right into bed. Bleck.
Four, from the makeout session the plot literally spiraled into almost a farce of ridiculousness. Believability went right out the window. Reality went out the window. The entertainment value was in how crazy and silly the story was getting with each new page. It made me laugh and I don’t think that was the intention. And the ending was super open-ended. I had kinda expected it based on his other works but I think this be one time where there should have been an epilogue with something along of the lines of “10 years later” and brief descriptions of where (boy) J, (girl) K, (boy) D, (girl) B, (girl) Q for example ended up.
All those problems aside, I got what I love Malerman’s works – cool ideas that make me think. So I am very grateful to have been given a review copy and to have read this one. I will be reading whatever he writes next. Arrrr!
So lastly . . .
Thank you Random House!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
J is a student at a school deep in a forest far away from the rest of the world.
J is one of only twenty-six students, all of whom think of the school’s enigmatic founder as their father. J’s peers are the only family he has ever had. The students are being trained to be prodigies of art, science, and athletics, and their life at the school is all they know—and all they are allowed to know.
But J suspects that there is something out there, beyond the pines, that the founder does not want him to see, and he’s beginning to ask questions. What is the real purpose of this place? Why can the students never leave? And what secrets is their father hiding from them?
Meanwhile, on the other side of the forest, in a school very much like J’s, a girl named K is asking the same questions. J has never seen a girl, and K has never seen a boy. As K and J work to investigate the secrets of their two strange schools, they come to discover something even more mysterious: each other.
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