I first noted this book in an airport bookshop, flying back home from Canberra at the start of the month. The cover is eye-catching and iconic, but I was already gripping over how many things I needed to carry (not many, I deprive myself in order to travel light) and how much I’d already spent that holiday. I love buying books whilst in transit though – they feel like the ultimate gift – so I really regretted not getting this when I saw it. Seeing it available for review felt like another prod saying here it is, GET IT! And I’m so glad I did.
The narration in this book is flowing and so damn easy to get caught up in. Though I’d had an exhausting week and chosen to work a 12 hour day on a Saturday (hey, working at elections pays well, dammit), I still got caught up and stayed up until almost midnight, devouring the first 10% of this book before I finally managed to tear myself away; it was just that engaging.
In Goodhouse, the families of convicted criminals are tested for a set of genetic markers (though this book seems to be set in 1980 or around-abouts). Boys who test positive become compulsory wards of the state and are removed from their homes to be raised on “Goodhouse” campuses, where they learn to reform their darkest thoughts and impulses. It’s not really said what happens to the females – perhaps it is thought that they remain good and wholesome.
Though this book seems to be set in the past, it then also has slight hints at a slightly futuristic world. It’s set in America where religion seems strong – whether that’s a marker for where it’s set, or just to show the times would make for interesting discussion.
This book is centred around a musically-gifted character called ‘James’, and ‘called’ has never been used more accurately as all boys in Goodhouse are renamed when they’re adopted into the boarding house. He is tall with slightly dark skin, which only means that much more as we see how he is victimised and treated generally on the few occasions he leaves the facility. Along with James and his room-mate Owen (an artistic genius), we have Bethany, another gifted child who is somewhat unstable (both physically and mentally) who is also daughter to the director of medical studies, a man who begins to feature predominately in James’ life.
What’s most powerful in this book is how the children are treated. James has zero rights – the school is run by different levels of ‘enforcer’ type characters, some who are even students themselves who have been given additional privileges. James is constantly attacked and victimised, but it doesn’t matter what he says to whom – he’s either ignored entirely, or there’s minor confusion as the culprits seem to never had existed. It’s maddening to read as you see James struggle to be a good person, but then also try to protect himself and Owen, and try to make sense of an increasingly insane enclosure.
This is apparently based on the true story of the nineteenth-century Preston School of Industry – something I’ll certainly be looking into more. Meanwhile, I highly recommend this novel when it comes out in January 2015. The characters are electric.