In a remote patch of forest, in old turreted towers, a group of 24 boys and another group of 25 girls, each assigned letters instead of names, are being raised as part of an experiment without knowledge of the outside world, each other, or the very existence of an opposite sex.
The founder of this dark experiment, Richard (aka the boys' D.A.D.), is seeking to develop geniuses by eliminating the distractions of sex. The 12-year-old Alphabet Boys and 11-year-old Letter Girls have been taught that they grew on trees. The possible existence of God is omitted from their lessons and from the lesson-bearing novels that outside writers, including a tortured soul from Milwaukee, are paid to write. For Richard, "obedience trumped religion." Those who aren't obedient, notably boys A and Z and girl J, are taken to a mysterious basement room called the Corner, never to be seen again. But even at the risk of extreme punishment, the male J can't resist sneaking out to investigate his surroundings after the shattering discovery that things his adored D.A.D. is telling him are not true. J's fearless female counterpart, K, whose story converges with his, becomes even more determined to penetrate the lies and hold the so-called Parenthood behind them to account. Though one shocking plot turn is forced and the publisher needlessly gives away what would have been a beautifully orchestrated surprise, this unlikely cross between 1984 and Lord of the Flies tantalizes.
Malerman, whose profile was significantly raised by the recent Netflix adaptation of his first novel, Bird Box (2014), delivers another freaky thriller. The book ultimately lacks real depth but still enhances his reputation as one of today's most unpredictable novelists.