A corporate-controlled city decides to optimize its schools' efficiency by adjusting students' temperaments.
Max Connors and his family live in New Middletown, a city that puts the gate in gated community. Only the most fortunate live in one of Chemrose International's six cities, protected from the crime, terrorism and poverty of the world at large. But the socioeconomically isolated enclave populated by a mix of natural and genetically selected children has its share of troublemakers, like Max. A bundle of contradictions, Max is a sensitive artist, a caring older brother and a vandal who fights at school while maintaining impressive grades. And there is a lot of pressure to stay academically successful—those who don't keep up in academic school get sent to trade school as throwaways. Max worries that his younger sister, Ally, won't be able to keep up with her classmates. His anxiety increases when students start acting like perfectly obedient zombies after receiving a vaccine that's being deployed one grade at a time. Austen uses Max as a prism in this novel of ideas. As one of the few students able to secretly avoid the treatment, he demonstrates a remarkable and situational moral compass by becoming the only person trying to fight the program itself. While he dabbles in juvenile delinquency on a personal level, when Max sees a larger picture he confronts it, standing up for what he thinks is right despite differing amounts of personal risk. Just trying to keep ownership of his mind, Max's actions send ripples of consequences farther than he could possibly imagine.
A shaded morality tale about individuality. (Dystopia. 12 & up)