There’s disagreement in the Ceceri household over Candor. The GeekTeen, who is always happy to test-drive YA novels that are sent for review, was ultimately unimpressed. I found it an engaging read that raises some interesting issues. The difference, I suspect, is gender-based. Because Candor is speculative fiction with a lot of kissing in it.
First-time author Pam Bachorz set her story in Candor, Florida, a dead-ringer for the town of Celebration. Like the real-life Disney model community, Candor is some ‘fifties fantasy of neat mini-mansions with perfectly manicured lawns. And like its landscaping, behavior in Candor is carefully cultivated as well. The well-to-do families that move to Candor aren’t just looking for a clean, safe neighborhood for their kids: they’re also paying for a makeover that will turn their offspring into Stepford children.
Now, with two teenage boys in the house, my first thought when I read this description was “What a great idea!” I requested the review copy half-hoping there’d be clues for programming your kids to pick up their rooms without nagging. But Bachorz, who is mom to a preschooler, decided to take the teenager’s point of view. Her main characters are Oscar, the son of the man who founded Candor; Mandi, his Harvard-bound girlfriend; and Nia, the new girl in town, who can’t help standing out with her Goth get-up and her skater mentality. Oscar has discovered his Dad’s secret: kids in Candor are brainwashed by subliminal messages pumped to them through the music played over the town’s loudspeakers. Somehow Oscar has managed to duplicate his Dad’s system, and now he makes his living burning CDs with hidden messages which compel his clients to do what he wants. Candor follows Oscar as he decides whether to save Nia by helping her escape, or keep her around to quell his loneliness in a town full of automatons.
While not terribly deep or science-oriented (we don’t find out too much about how the brainwashing system works), Candor does a good job of capturing the teen point of view. Bachorz makes her dialogue believable, the plot moves quickly and there’s just enough suspense to keep you turning pages. However, I have to agree with the GeekTeen that there’s more romance in this novel than I expected to find. Oscar spends a lot of time looking at girls, thinking about girls, and conspiring to spend time with girls. The only other male he interacts with, Sherman, is a client of his escape business who turns out to be a royal pain. And except for his somewhat shady father, Oscar manages to go about his day without a lot of contact with adults. (He even shows his dad’s model homes on the weekend to prospective buyers – don’t they need real estate licenses in Florida?)
Still, I liked getting a glimpse of Bachorz’s fictional world, even if she presents a different aspect of it than I would have asked for. Her website includes photos of the real Celebration, Florida, where she lived (happily, from all appearances) for many years. And with readers already asking for a sequel, it’s possible that the author will get a chance to expand her universe even more.
But I guess I’ll have to wait until Bachorz’s child hits his teens to get the parents-eye-view of a town where kids do whatever you tell them, the first time. Sigh.