Everything you need is in Candor. Conformity is beauty.
Families move here because there is no graffiti, there is no litter, there is no loud music, their children study hard and Saturday night is family night.
Academics are the key to success. Parents always know what's best for their children.
Any problems with their children from before they move to Candor are put behind them.
The past is best forgotten.
In fact Candor is the ideal town - as long as you obey the messages because if you don't you could be taken to the Listening Room where you will be erased and you will become a model citizen.
The only way to survive Candor is to leave.
Arranging to leave Candor is what Oscar Banks does, he has invented his own messages and for those kids who believe him and have enough money, he can get them out - at a price. He is the model citizen, hiding in plain sight. Until Nia arrives with her skateboard and painted nails and her talent for art. She likes graffiti and Oscar Banks gives in to an impulse which leads to all sorts of problems.
Bachorz has created a dystopian novel that many teenagers are going to connect with immediately. Written in simple prose this book explores ideas of individuality and conformity for a new generation. This is a story of rebellion, about that old phrase 'teenagers today!' and what some parents are prepared to do to put an old head on young shoulders.
Oscar Banks is not a likable character, he is superior - The great are never late - self serving and exploitative. He has no real friends, everyone is just 'cover' for his real activities, even his girlfriend. He is too much like his father who built Candor. When he sees Nia however, despite the way she looks and the way she talks and the danger she represents, he falls in love. Bachorz uses Nia's talent for art in an interesting way as it is a form of expression which is generally encouraged but graffiti is of course frowned upon. Bachorz is not above playing with the ideas in the book, such as the concept of TAG (Teens Against Graffiti):
" 'today we are putting pride Messages on our sidewalks', she says. Like she's told me this part before, too. Not that I remember. That might have been when I was wondering what it looks like when a girl skateboards naked. What's the better view? Front or back?
Whoops. There I go again.
Pull it together, Oscar.
'You're writing on the sidewalks?' I ask.
'I have eighty catchy phrases right here.' She taps on her clipboard.
It's too funny to be real. 'Isn't that graffiti?'
She pulls the clipboard tight to her chest, which is regrettably shrouded in a loose shirt. 'It's a statement. It's anti-graffiti.'
'I guess if we cover the sidewalks, there's no room for graffiti,' I tease.
But she takes me seriously. Acts like I just came up with the cure for cancer. 'Good point, Oscar! I never thought of that. We'll need to think about how we can protect the lamp poles, too.' "
but there is the heartbreak of stifling creativity too, in the TAG drive for kids to hand in their crayons for a free calculator.
'Candor' exposes the worries of the adult world for their children, if you study hard you'll get a good job and you will be protected. The by product of this is that you will end up just like your parents.
Underlying all of the events of the novel (and the impulse to control in the real world) is fear, the fear of loosing what or who is important. If I control you, you will not leave and I will never be hurt but as this novel demonstrates, if a parent is successful in exercising total control all that is left is a hollow person.
Bachorz novel is therefore a call to cherish the total teenager. Yes, they may be loud, obnoxious, challenging, ill-disciplined and disrespectful but they are also thought provoking, creative, free thinking, uncompromising, questioning, vital and alive. Ready to sample and question the world around them and challenge accepted modes of thought. Yes, they will leave but, if you are very lucky and have parented even reasonably well, they just might come back and appreciate you.
'Candor' is published on the 2nd August by Egmont Press.
My thanks to Egmont for supplying me with an uncorrected proof for review, as a result the quotes above may differ from the final published version.
The town of Candor has it's own website.
Pam Bachorz's website is here where you will find all sorts of info including a playlist.
And just for those who are teenagers or who cherish their teenagers, a reminder of why we might want to brainwash them!