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All Good Children

by Catherine Austen

In Quebec-based author Catherine Austen’s imaginative and affecting dystopian novel, the company town of New Middletown is a safe, secure enclave in a world beset by terrorism and environmental disaster.

The community was built by Chemrose International, a company with Orwellian control over its inhabitants, to support the New Middletown Manor Heights Geriatric Rest Home, one of the largest in the world with 32,000 beds. “Half the city is bordered by forest and the other half is walled,” 17-year-old Maxwell Connors says early in the novel. “If you don’t have a place to live and work here, you don’t get in.”

The security comes at a price, however. The company dictates working hours and living conditions, and cameras keep the population in line. Max, a graffiti artist and occasional malcontent, is an exception to this rule. When he notices that a round of vaccinations and the implementation of a new educational program have transformed the children of New Middletown into automatons – obedient and hard-working, but joyless and devoid of personality – Max ramps up his rebellion.

All Good Children is a smart, polished novel, peopled with realistic characters in a well-developed, futuristic world. Aware of its own antecedents (characters discuss zombies, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Stepford Wives), the book builds on cultural familiarity, resulting in an emotionally engaging work.

Though the story takes some time to gain momentum, one suspects that the restrained pace is deliberate, carefully setting the stage for a narrative that strikes the delicate balance between fantasy and plausibility.

There are no superheroes here, no larger than life antics, just a slow-building tension that rewards the reader both rationally and emotionally.