Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

Found via: BBYA 2010 nominations

When I'm traveling, I like to bring along books that match where I'm going whenever possible. So when I was traveling over Thanksgiving to celebrate the holidays with my in-laws in Florida, I brought along Candor, set in a perfect community in Florida. Hm, maybe when I'm going to spend time with my in-laws I shouldn't bring along books that encourage distrust of adults!

Oscar Banks lives with his father in Candor, Florida, the community that his father established as the perfect place, especially for parents to bring their troubled teenagers. Only Oscar knows why the kids become so docile upon moving to Candor - his father has set up an elaborate sound system throughout the town that is constantly pumping subliminal messages into everyone's unsuspecting minds.

Rebelling against his father the only way he can and not be sent to the extreme re-education room, Oscar runs a sort of underground railroad where the richest kids in town can buy passage out of Candor (and Oscar in return has an endless supply of contraband - porn, DVDs and M&Ms are just a few of the things that are outlawed in Candor that Oscar hoards). Oscar's secret? He knows how to create his own subliminal messages, which can counteract the ones his father has set up.

And then Nia arrives. Beautiful and rebellious, Oscar can't stand the thought of her being changed into the perfect Candor citizen. He creates a special batch of messages for Nia to keep her from falling under the spell - but never tells her about it. At the same time Nia arrives, one of Oscar's clients who was supposed to escape is caught at the last minute. Oscar's usual balancing act has become much more precarious - there's now someone else in town who knows what he's up to, who could spill the beans at any moment. At the same time he has to encourage Nia to be herself, but pretend that she's like the other Candor kids - without revealing the secret of the messages. All without his strict, controlling father ever suspecting that the rebellion is being run from inside his son's bedroom.

Candor has all the elements of the quintessential YA novel - untrustworthy parents, conspiracy theories, a beautiful stranger, and a smarter than average protagonist. But with all of these elements, I still felt the book fell a little short in some ways. Big things went unexplained, like why exactly someone goes crazy if they leave Candor but don't bring along a set of subliminal messages. I also never understood why Oscar felt it was so important that Nia not know about the subliminal messages, either the ones his father set up or the new ones he gave Nia. It felt like it was an artificial reason, set up so there would be conflict between Oscar and Nia if/when she did find out. Finally, why on earth did Oscar's dad create Candor in the first place? I can see the appeal of creating a perfect community, but there's never an explanation for why he targeted rich families with problem teenagers. Oscar points out a very real problem with his father's business model: since you die if you leave Candor, no one can ever move away permanently (college-bound students have a special CD pack they take with them, but they always come back to Candor), meaning eventually the town's land will be completely used up, with no new families (and thus no new income for his father) until people start dying off. Unless his father's plan is actually to keep expanding Candor until he's taken over the US, it doesn't seem like a feasible plan.

There are some fun elements, however. I enjoyed Oscar's increasing paranoia throughout the book, trying to figure out what new messages his father was implanting in the populace, knowing when to play along with the messages and when to actively rebel. The story is exciting, despite the occasional holes in the logic, and tightly paced, making this a definite page turner.
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