Candor by Pam Bachorz. Egmont USA. September 2009. Reviewed from ARC supplied by publisher.
Candor is the perfect town, filled with perfect people and perfect teens. It's the perfect place to live!
How to achieve that perfection? Oh, it's harmless. Just subliminal messages, fed to you and your teens through music. The music that is always in the background.
Is your son overweight and friendless? Fixable. Your daughter a mean girl who bullies others? Fixable. Your daughter prefers art to science? Fixable.
Oscar Banks is the son of the town's founder. And Oscar knows about the Messages. And has figured out how to fight them. To fight being controlled. And he uses his powers for good -- for a slight price. OK, not so slight. A new teen in town who has their own bank account? For a fee, he helps them fight the Messages and helps them escape Candor. When Nia moves to town, he makes a mistake. He falls in love with her. If she falls under control of the Messages, he loses her; but if she escapes, he loses her.
A can't put down read that will you have you turning the pages, anxious to find out what happens next, what happens to Oscar, to Nia.
The Messages create conformity; but it's also about power. The parents here are the ultimate helicopter parents, controlling everything about their child, including what the child thinks. And the child doesn't even know it is happening, because it is all subliminal. Because the parents can also opt into the mind control (what better way to lose weight? achieve success? be the perfect person), the parent may eventually not remember, either. If things don't go well, where, there can be a Message about that. Your family always had just one child, not two.
I love how Bachorz takes on not only helicopter parenting, but other current issues. Food and diet, for example -- no one in town eats ice cream. Ice cream and chocolate are bad! Instead, the Message is "Vegetables make you strong." In this town, it's only G movies and carrots and milk as snack food.
Worried about teen sex? In Candor, hand holding and kissing are risque. "Respectful space in every place."
And as for art...Oscar's father doesn't like art. A waste of time: "Art is a disease. Art is filthy." But before the artistic reader pats themselves on the back, saying "oh yes it is the art haters who do this," step back. Be honest. Oscar's father could just as well have said, "Art is wonderful." It's not about art; it's about parents wanting control, wanting power over their children, taking away the teen's right to make their own decisions. Everytime I hear Angelina Jolie talk about how her adoptive children will return to their birthplaces running charitable organizations and "give back", I think, "but what if Maddox just wants to be a skateboarder? Or Zahara a fashion designer?" Or the hipster parents who proudly say they will raise their kids to be just like them, with the same taste in music, art and fashion. Let kids choose their own futures, not the ones their parents want for them.
Then there is the music. These people are constantly plugged in, getting their Messages. It is actually an "aural addiction." What a twist -- instead of parents grumbling about the constant music, they've created a world where something bad will happen if you don't listen to the music. Of course, it's music all selected and approved of by someone else. While Bachorz has a great playlist of tunes that capture Oscar's and Nia's feelings, I doubt those songs would be allowed in Candor.
Bachorz writes at her website that town in the book was inspired in part by Celebration. I thought the required NEVs were made up by Bachorz; nope, they are real and are used in Celebration.
© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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