Title: The Disappeared (#1)
Author: C.J Harper
On the Shelves: Young Adult, Dystopian,
In a future where children are segregated into institutions that range from comfortable “Learning Communities” to prison-like “Local Academies”, seventeen-year-old Jackson is an academic high flyer, living in a top Learning Community and destined for a position in the Leadership. But when he is sent with his best friend Wilson to deliver a package to a factory block, the two boys are attacked, leaving Jackson badly beaten and Wilson dead.
Confused and upset, Jackson returns to his Learning Community only to be dismissed by his teachers who claim not to know him. Sent to an Academy, an institute set up to train factory workers, Jackson finds himself immersed in a world that couldn’t be further removed than the comfortable life he’s used to; a harsh, violent, semi-articulate society where the students have created their own hierarchy based on fighting ability.
Using his wits to survive, Jackson starts to realise that his whole life has been based on half-truths. And in order to survive he needs to expose the lies that surround the Academy and find out the truth about who he really is. As he builds alliances and begins to educate those closest to him, a plan for rebellion and escape gradually comes into shape…
Fast-paced, page-turning, moving, yet with a streak of dark humour, The Disappeared is a very British dystopia, with shades of Orwell and Huxley (Goodreads 2013)
Well, my first impression of this book is that after reading so many YA Dystopians written by American authors, it was nice to finally have an English author pen one. It’s one of those trivial details but when the language is literally the same you grow up with, including some slang and an educational system structure, it just helps to ground it more, especially when the setting is in the “not-too-distant-future”.
The society in which The Disappeared is set, is split into three clean sectors: The Academies, The Factories and the Wilderness. If you are in the Academies, then you are likely to be one of the cleverest of the population and you are guaranteed a high ranking government job upon leaving school. If you are not clever enough, you will go to a “secondary” academy, and then end up in The Factories, living in run down flats in poor conditions, and finally The Wilderness is home to nothing….except, as we find out, criminals and deviants.
I enjoyed this book. I spent most of the novel not having a clue what the hell was going on. It felt a little like Alice Through the Looking-Glass, in that everything was topsy turvy and back to front. The kids allowed to fight in school for popularity and rankings, the teachers kept in cages during classes to protect them whilst administering electric shocks on the pupils who misbehaved. Nobody inside the Academies having the slightest clue as to what the Wilderness really is or what the hell is going on outside of the Academy walls. It was intense and curiosity compelled me through each chapter.
Jackson was a good protagonist, although arguably not the best, but I felt he coped realistically in his situation despite everything that went on. The secondary characters, I must admit, I didn’t feel much pull to despite the author’s intentions, and because of this, I don’t really feel compelled to continue with the series. I like this book as a standalone. This book had some interesting factors which made it memorable amongst the vast range of “dystopian” novels, some of which I’d not actually seen before in others, surprisingly proving to me that not every aspect of this genre has been overused and there is indeed some originality left in the genre to be had.
One element of the narrative that worked really well in this book was jumping straight into the plot and leaving the world building until later. I’ve read many dystopian books which fall into the “slow-starter” category due to the vast amount of world building that takes place in the first three chapters. The authors feel the need to immediately explain every little thing about why their undesirable world is tragic and messed up and morally wrong, whereas Harper resisted doing that. Harper gradually explained little things as she went along- which was great because it doesn’t overwhelm the reader with hundreds of facts which later are crucial to the plot but all blend together instantly.
So for example, we don’t really hear about why the police don’t seem to be doing much about stuff which goes on (it’s so hard not to give spoilers away with these types of books!), until the protagonist literally encounters the police and tries to explain to them like anyone in our world would what has happened. We don’t find out about the Wilderness properly until our protagonist actually experiences it through one way or another. This is also another great tactic because it surrounds these big reveals in an added air of mystery.
In short, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who like the dystopian YA genre, while I personally am not continuing with the series, I’m sure a fair amount of people will want to.