Canadian author Catherine Austen’s young adult novel All Good Children
(2011) takes place in a dystopian future. The novel centers on mischievous Maxwell Connors, a student who breaks the rules for fun, but later breaks them out of necessity when he fights against social control experimentation. Austen’s narrative explores themes of responsibility, friendship, resilience, and social control. Booklist said of the novel: “Action packed, terrifying, and believable, this entertaining novel will provoke important discussions about subservience, resistance, and individual freedom.” All Good Children
is the winner of the Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award and the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.
Seventeen-year-old Maxwell Connors is a bright student. He’s also a troublemaker. Maxwell, or Max, lives in New Middletown with his family and is protective of his younger sister, Ally. The company-controlled town, comprising both natural and genetically-selected children, is touted as a safe, secure community. Max says of his town, “Half the city is bordered by forest and the other half is walled.” It contrasts greatly with the decaying world beyond its walls. Indeed, the narrative takes place in the middle of the twenty-first century, and the outside world is beset with environmental disasters, poverty, crime, and terrorism. However, a company known as Chemrose International has built six safe-haven communities, including New Middletown, to support its interests. As Max says, “If you don’t have a place to live and work here, you don’t get in.”
New Middletown was built to support New Middletown Manor Heights Geriatric Rest Home. The rest home is one of the largest, with more than 32,000 beds in use. Chemrose International, however, is a corporation with a totalitarian reach. The company not only oversees working hours, it dictates living conditions. The community is also monitored thoroughly by cameras that keep everyone in line. Though Chemrose International is a controlling company with Orwellian tactics, rebellious Max is still able to buck the rules for a while. He is fond of graffiti and starting fights at school, but these traits are contrasted with his artistic nature, as well as his love for and protection of his younger sister. Students who don’t cut it are sent to trade school, which is like being tossed aside, and Max is concerned that Ally will meet this fate.
Max’s rebellious nature is put to the test, however, when a new educational program at school implements vaccinations, grade by grade, to New Middletown’s students. The vaccine turns the students into robots—they become obedient and no longer pick fights, but they lack basic human qualities such as thought and have no personality. This, of course, would cause Max to stick out like a sore thumb. Moreover, bright Max is secretly able to keep from getting the vaccine. With his freedom now in danger, Max uses his smarts—and his rebellious nature—to wage a war against the powers-that-be. His fight to keep control of his mind and to stop the devastation being leveled on the minds of others have far-reaching results by the end of the narrative.All Good Children
, an engaging, real-to-life novel, has received positive reviews for its rational yet emotional approach to the various themes it addresses. The novel also makes use of cultural familiarity: Austen’s characters bring up important symbolism, such as zombies, and books/movies that parallel New Middletown’s own situation, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers
and The Stepford Wives.
Though some critics have mentioned that the narrative’s tension builds slowly, others have pointed out that the slower speed is most likely an intentional narrative device that results in a realistic
story with a satisfying outcome.