The Disappeared by C J Harper

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The Disappeared by C J Harper

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Enjoyable dystopian adventure centring on the theme of totalitarianism and propaganda. Echoes of North Korea and leadership cults abound. Perhaps a tad predictable and another tad light, but the narrative is strong and the characters engaging, so The Disappeared will be a satisfying read for fans of the genre.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 0857076981

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Jackson is self-confident, motivated and happy. After all, he attends one of the top Learning Communities and has an AEP score of 98.5. He is destined to become an important part of the Leadership some day. You and I might see Jackson as an insufferable, pompous ass but, since he is surrounded by people like him, Jackson doesn't see it like that.

But then a seemingly random violent attack leaves Jackson battered and bloody and his best friend Wilson dead. When police return him to the Learning Community, Jackson finds his teachers claim not to recognise him and all his records wiped. Dumped in an Academy - a school purportedly for those with lower AEP scores - Jackson's life becomes a hell. Academy students are known as Specials. They're disciplined by electric shocks distributed by teachers in cages. They're fed slop through nozzles in slots. They're encouraged to fight. And they're kept in line by Reds - nominated Specials who get extra food and pride of place in the violent Academy pecking order.

Can Jackson survive long enough to find out the truth behind the attack on him and Wilson? Can he expose the conditions at the Academy? Or face down the Leader?

Gosh. I read The Disappeared in one, rather breathless, session. It's a real page-turner. However, I do have one, perhaps petty but irritating nonetheless, niggle. When people swear in The Disappeared, they say efwurding. Oh, purlease. If an author or publisher feels unable to get away with saying fuck in a book for teenagers, then they simply shouldn't say it. And here, in The Disappeared, where the Specials have their very own lingo, a brand new - and allowable! - swear word could very easily have been invented. I can't bear fig-leafing or bowdlerising, call it what you will - it feels dishonest (as if we don't know what efwurding is, so if it's not allowed don't put it in), it also feels like a cop-out (there are plenty of other ways to vituperate) and it's just deeply uncool. It might seem like a small thing to you, but it's like fingernails on a polling blackboard to me. See what I did there? I stole a swear word from Clockwork Orange, but I could easily have made up my own.

Otherwise, The Disappeared is a thoroughly enjoyable book in this busy dystopian genre. Its strengths lie in its strong and engaging narrative - the opening chapters grab you straightaway and the pace of progression keeps you reading long after you should really have put the book down - and in the super characterisation. It's a bit of a picaresque for poor old Jackson, who thinks of himself as so superior. He has a lot to learn and he doesn't need to face up only to violence and fights, but also to his own wilful ignorance. It's a tough ask. There are also lots of clever details adding depth to the worldbuilding - why are Reds so-called and how are they chosen, for example. Perhaps the story is a tad predictable - even I saw the main reveal coming - and another tad light, but it's a great read and it does cover the important themes of totalitariansim and propaganda, even if in somewhat broad strokes.

Recommended to all fans of dystopian fiction.

The Killables by Gemma Malley is another story in which citizens of a society are ruthlessly classified and portrays an ultra-controlled, denunciation environment. Another dystopian novel in this vein is the super-duper Lifegame by Alison Allen-Gray.

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