Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

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Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

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Category: Dystopian Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sam Tyler
Reviewed by Sam Tyler
Summary: What would you do if you knew that your child had a good chance of growing up to be a criminal? In this future Earth you would have no choice as your son will be taken from you and placed into a boarding school to be educated in society's ways. Find out what happens in this intriguing dystopian fiction novel that makes you question the origins of criminality.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 336 Date: January 2015
Publisher: Doubleday
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780857521903

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There have been times in history when governments have thought they knew who the criminal underclass was. This did not lead to anything good under the Nazis and the same can be said of the Goodhouse regime. If we knew that certain genetics led to an increased chance of criminality, wouldn’t educating these people when they were young be a good thing? Prevention is better than cure, but I am not sure if fascism is.

This intriguing concept it is at the very centre of ‘Goodhouse’ and is by far the strongest element of the book. The initial pages alone introduce us to this future Earth where for 50 years some young boys have been housed in strict boarding schools, no longer allowed to know their families. A simple idea, but one that has great potential that could lead in so many different ways. It is a shame then that Marshall manages to lead us down one or two blind alleys before getting to the meat of the story.

We follow James as he leaves his Goodhouse camp to work in the real world. Be it nature or nurture, he manages to get in trouble and things begin to spiral out of control. ‘Goodhouse’ starts off as a hard read and continues so for almost the first two thirds. James is wrongly put-upon for great lengths; he is demeaned, tortured, beaten and humiliated. This does not make for pleasant reading, but does act as a great way of fleshing out the wider world that Marshall has created. James will do whatever it takes to break his programming and get out.

If the book had concentrated solely on James’ struggle, it would have been a harsh read, but one that raised questions about our own treatment of prisoners and the poor. However, Marshall throws in a couple more layers of story that muddy the waters. There is a love story that is a little unbelievable and a fight club that just seems daft. The book darts between the day to day life of internment, to a teeny love tale and then violent fighting. The reader can become a little confused at the time frame as Marshal has to skip days to allow James time to recover when nothing else seems to happen.

Whilst the book does get bogged down in the middle, it is certainly worth persevering for the final act that brings to the fore the society that imprisoned James at the age of six. A group known as the Zeros believe that if a person is genetically designed to be a criminal, why bother educating them when you can kill them instead? This not only poses another interesting debate about the nature of criminality but also leads to some great action set pieces as James tries to help himself and his friends.

Like with many genre books that rely heavily on one strong concept, ‘Goodhouse’ has some great ideas, but does not quite utilise them as well as they could be. Marshall has given the book a very solid centre with a likeable lead and well-designed world. It is a shame that some of the book drifts more into juvenile fiction and feels too naïve when compared with the heart-wrenching world that James exists in. Fans of teenage dystopian fiction will certainly enjoy the book, as will the majority of science fiction fans; it is just that some people will find it all a little twee at times.

If you have not got around to it yet you should certainly read the book that kicked off the latest dystopian futures fad; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. A more fun and far more adult version of a broken future can be witnessed in the excellent Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea.

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