This disturbing little novel is the book I finished reading, as usual, one day ahead of our Third Tuesday Book Club discussion tomorrow evening (February 21st, 2017) of the novel. It is a book about imprisonment, and the choices that people make when they are literally sent off to wait to die, and I enjoyed reading it.
Toby, aged sixteen, was living a very normal life in 22nd century England; he had been invited to a party, and was looking forward to it with the usual mix of teenage excitement and nerves, when he was taken away in the black van from his house. His latest blood test for the Defective Gene (which people have been tested for, up until the age of eighteen, for at least three generations) had come back Positive. Before then, all he knew was that if you were found to have the Defective Gene, they take you away and you are never heard from again.
He is now living in an old manor house, on an island somewhere in the north of England, with several other children who were found to have the Defective Gene; there are about twenty kids (mostly boys, and two girls), along with a cadre of nurses, teachers (who run classes for four hours each day), and Matron. If a kid becomes sick, he or she is taken away by the nurses to the “sanitorium” at the top of the building, and the kid is never seen again; usually, this happens some weeks or months after they arrive at the Death House. Mostly, the kids are left to their own devices in the house, which is furnished with mid-to late 20th century books, music, and board games. Toby is very angry and very scared; he is the self-appointed leader of his dorm (which includes Louis, who is very smart; ten-year-old Will, and Ashley, who prays aloud every night), and keeps himself closed away from everyone. He quickly figured out that the “vitamins” they were given each night at bed check were actually sleeping pills; his routine is to fake taking the pills, then to stuff the pills in the hollow of his bedpost, then to roam around the house at night while everyone is asleep. Then two more kids arrive at the Death House; Tom, who is seventeen and a half, and Clara, who is fifteen.
To tell more of the book would be to give too much away; but I can note that Toby, in his English class, is making his way through The Lord of the Flies by William Golding in a desultory way, and Will has found an old copy of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis in the playroom; both books deal with children left to their own devices and having to make their own decisions without adult input.
I very much enjoyed this book, and I am looking forward to tomorrow evening’s Third Tuesday Book Club meeting to discuss the book.