Some time ago I reviewed Sam Mills' young adult novel The Boys Who Saved the World, an impressive young-adult thriller about a group of teenagers who are convinced a classmate is a terrorist and decide to take action, with devastating results. I am happy to hear that the novel is now being made into a film -- you can see the trailer here -- and I was even happier to be offered Sam Mills' latest novel for review.
Blackout, also aimed at the young adult market, is set in a terrifying dystopian future. Terrifying because, though we are never told exactly when the novel takes place, it is clearly not many years on from our present. So this is a recognisable world in many ways -- kids still play with gameboys, watch TV, and read books. But -- and here is one of the main cruxes of the novel -- the books they read have all been censored. Teams of Rewriters are employed to purge the banned books of anything that might incite rebellion or impure thinking, so anyone caught reading the original versions of novels such as 1984, Lord of the Flies or Harry Potter will be taken off and brainwashed into the government's version of right thinking. It's also a world in which public hangings are regularly held in Trafalgar Square, subversive kids are held in The Institution where they are subjected to brainwashing techniques designed to make them conform, and schools issue pupils with Good Behaviour Pills whose effect is to dull the brain and bring about a state of false euphoria.
Stefan, the young narrator, is sixteen when the book begins. He lives alone with his father, a kind, liberal-minded bookseller. But soon after the start of the novel his Dad makes the decision to hide a radical Muslim writer in their house, and when this is discovered, the police come and Stefan finds himself alone, having to fend for himself in a shocking, confusing world in which nothing is as it seems and no-one can be trusted. His adventures, and his search for the truth, make up the rest of this exciting, disturbing novel. Many important issues are raised here -- the powerful effect of literature, the dangers of fundamentalist religion, the responsibility of a people for the government they end up with. This is a novel which manages to be both enthralling and profoundly serious and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.