Hucks offers a debut novel set in an authoritarian, future United States that takes drastic measures to battle juvenile delinquency.
The people of America find themselves battling “inflation, corporate standstill, unemployment, and an unsettling stock market.” Most troublingly, though, is the fact that crime among young people has risen drastically. Ohio Gov. Fredrick Keplin proposes the creation of Juvenile Rehabilitation Camps, designed “to reincorporate respect, morale, and dignity, into young civilians.” Under his program, he aims to incarcerate every American child from the age of 13 to his or her 23rd birthday. After an unexpected event in Washington, Keplin is able to get his way. Before this, Travis King and his friends were fairly average kids; although Travis had to escape an abusive home life, they enjoyed skateboarding, music, and other law-abiding activities. But when they’re consigned to a Camp, their world is turned upside down. As they plan and execute an escape, readers are taken on a journey that’s as bizarre as it is unpredictable. For example, Travis hears the voice of a mysterious “Entity” in his mind, which tries to get him to doubt himself, his friends, and his faith in God (“Your life is nothing more than overcompensated exaggerations and pathetic virtues,” it says at one point); also, there’s a subplot about a womanizing actor, Bret Russet, who crosses paths with the kids as their hostage. Overall, the book is almost too painstaking in its use of back story, which includes Travis’ none-too-exciting quest for legal emancipation at the age of 14; as a result, some chapters feel stalled by extraneous information. Likewise, the sheer number of characters, which range from Keplin’s two-timing mistress Yen Quary to sassy anchorwoman Ashley Mullen, add unnecessary pages to the work. Nevertheless, if readers get onboard with the main concept of the Juvenile Rehabilitation Camps, the story that follows offers a close, sometimes-insightful look at a country gone completely bonkers—as well as an examination of those who have the will to fight against it.
A truly strange and lengthy vision of a dystopian America.