In a near future, England has closed its borders, microchipped its citizens, and forced children without two parents into orphanages that are an awful lot like prisons.
When 12-year-old Jake’s parents die in a car accident, he is sent to live in a Home Academy to be educated and cared for. Jake escapes to find his dog, Jet, and keep the promise he made to his parents: to flee to his grandparents’ home in Scotland. They also made him promise to keep Jet with him always. But Jake’s chip is like a beacon to the hubbers, and he has no idea how to make the long walk to the border. He meets a group of teens and children who call themselves Outwalkers who agree to take Jake with them as long as he follows the rules. Poacher, with his braided hair and black skin, and Swift, with her pale skin and hard eyes, are the leaders of the motley group. Rumors of a deadly virus and the constant threat of capture haunt their journey. Slow pacing, a vague enemy, and unoriginal plot hamper the intriguing premise. Sacrifice, loyalty, and bravery are rewarded, but Jake’s naiveté quickly becomes irritating. The book adheres to the white default, Poacher a notable exception; that he speaks in an off-putting dialect when most of the rest of the characters do not is an unfortunate detail.
A dystopic near future that never manages to come to life. (Science fiction. 8-12)