“In a drought-sticken world, Devin and his grandfather have barely scraped out a living on their isolated farm. When his grandfather dies, Devin knows he can’t manage alone and heads for the nearest city to find help. But in the city he finds only children alone like him, living on the streets. Then a small act of kindness earns Devin an invitation to the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood – a place with unlimited food and toys and the hope of finding a new home.
But Devin soon finds out that the Gabriel H. Penn Home is no paradise. A zombie-like sickness afflicts many of the children who live there – and it will claim Devin too, unless he can become the first to find a way out of this dystopian nightmare.” – Summary from the back of the book *picture taken from a google search.
*siiggghhhhh* There is so much I want to say, where do I even start??
I picked this book up not knowing that it was a middle grade novel (not that it mattered, really) but I was finally in the mood for another dystopian and I was glad that it wasn’t a series. Since I am in school, I have decided to stay away from long series and thick, heavy books. I’ll leave the heavy, long, dense stuff to my textbooks.
I want to start off by saying that the synopsis on the back of the book is extremely misleading and I feel so conflicted on giving this book any type of rating because, for 1) this book was good, yall. I cannot even lie. It was fast-paced, it was addicting, it was creepy and dark, and there were many moments that had my sensitive heart beating like the wings of a hummingbird. But 2) A zombie-like sickness? There was no sickness at all! And what was happening was far from anything “zombie-like”. And lastly, my confliction mainly comes because there are plot holes! There were too many things left unanswered that I felt were very important. Had this book been the first book in a series, I would let it slide. But this is a standalone and with so many missing pieces, a standalone just will not do.
We start off meeting Devin on his farm. We do not really get to know his grandfather at all because he’s dead before the book starts (seriously, the book opens up with Devin digging his grandfather’s grave) but we get to know him a tad through Devin’s memories and flashbacks. Then Devin is off to the city. We are introduced to this dry, crowded, and half abandoned city with the rich suburbs thriving on the outskirts. The people are mean, they ignore the kids, the police are corrupt and do nothing (and seem to have it out for the lost children too), the rich people pretty much own the city because they own all the water, and there is this omnipresent “we are watching” thing going on by men in dark suits and fancy cars with darkly tinted windows that is never really explained.
We are never told how the city came to be this way, why society has turned its back on all the lost children, and just in general – what the heck happened?? How did a society like this come to be? We are never told. We don’t even know why Devin has no parents and was being raised by his grandfather. His parents were never even mentioned (I understand there are many real families in the world with only grandparents and grandchildren and that’s fine. I just thought a little familial background would be nice to know). Especially since Devin has a certain rare ability. It is actually a real thing that gets ZERO representation in books (probably because it’s so rare). Starting out, we do not know what this ability is and certain passages can be extremely confusing because of it. But once we find out, it all makes perfect sense.
The reader is only in the city for a short while before Devin is whisked away to this Home for Childhood which is indeed NO PARADISE and this is where the rest of the book takes place. The home is run by a lady that is only referred to as “The Administrator”. All we know is that she is a cold-hearted, horrid woman who most likely has inner demons of her own, but again, the author chooses to skip any details about this and remain surface level.
The things that go on at this home are dark and creepy (and slightly sickening if you think really hard on things like I do) and I can honestly say that had I read this book between the ages of 10-13 like it’s intended, I probably would have been really disturbed or straight up had nightmares. I was a kid that got nightmares easily if things freaked me out. To this day, I hate scary things (horror movies, horror books, gory games…you get the point). But there is a mystery behind this Home for Childhood and that is what really kept me reading. I wanted to know what the heck was going on and why. And although we do find out what is going on, I’m still kind of stuck on the why.
As mentioned before, the book is fast-paced and addicting and when the moments came that I needed to stop reading to get other things done such as chores or homework, I literally had to force myself to stop reading. I was really invested in this book and I could have easily read it in one sitting. The author is a great writer; she knows how to grab your attention and keep it. There was never a boring moment for me in this book; I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. If we are basing a rating for this book solely on readability/addictive-ness and adventure, then this book is easily a 5 star read. But here comes the big BUT. As mentioned before, there were too many things missing. And to refrain from spoiling anything, I can’t even mention the things I want to know more about, gahh!
Lastly, the ending of this book was….
I don’t even know. It was just a “no”.
The climax of the book was pretty much the end of the book and I just did not like how the author chose to wrap everything up. Once again, it’s left with way too many things unanswered and as I sat mulling over the end of the book in my post book reflections, it really felt like the author wrapped things up the way she did because she could find no other way to “fix” things. The way the book left off was in such a way that things could easily become another utopia turned dystopia (Lord of the Flies was the first thing that flashed into my mind upon finishing this book). If you choose to read this book, you will understand what I mean.
I am so sorry if this review is all over the place. My mind is all over the place because I keep asking questions that will never be answered. Ugh. I feel like this review is more negative than positive but really, people, the book was so good! But more was needed to fill in all the gaps. So let me wrap this up:
- Easy read
- Great writing
- Missing background pieces of the story
- World building is not complete
- Character backgrounds are skimp for some, and nonexistent for others
- Weak ending
I choose not to give this book a star rating and will simply end this review by saying that I recommend this book. Although I wanted more, I do not feel like I wasted my time. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it 🙂