book thoughts: Candor by Pam Bachorz (2009)

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Pam Bachorz

Bachorz, P. Candor
Egmont, 2009. 249 pages.
$16.95 ISBN 978-1-60684-012-2

Respectful space in every place.
Academics are the key to success.
Never keep secrets from your parents.

These phrases sound like something the average teen would hear on aregular basis as adults try to influence their behavior.  Whilechildren may not immediately obey these words, they do listen.  Butwhat if they had no choice but to listen?  What if these messages werenot coming from their parents’ mouths, but instead being deliveredsubliminally, every second of every day? 

In the town of Candor, that is exactly what life is like.  Well-to-dofamilies move in, hoping that the messages will help mold theirchildren into something “better”.  It only takes a matter of daysbefore the child starts to spout these phrases.  Once cherished items,like skateboards, art supplies, and M&Ms, are thrown in the garbageby their owners.  The town is quiet, safe, and seemingly perfect sinceall of its citizens must obey the Messages.

Oscar Banks is the son of Candor’s creator.  As the Messages will tellyou, he is a superior person.  He does well in school, participates inextracurricular activities, and even has a perfect girlfriend, Mandi. But no one knows the real Oscar.  He was in Candor from the start, andhe’s managed to figure out how the Messages work.  He can’t avoid themcompletely, but he has created a set of special messages just forhimself, to help him remember who he really is.  He also createsmessages for kids that are willing and able to pay his high fee to getout. He has managed to build his own little world inside right underhis father’s nose, and no one knows about it but him. 

Then one night, Oscar meets a mysterious girl.  She’s clearly new intown, still wearing her dark clothes and a collection of earrings. She’s also snuck in a can of orange spray paint.  He is amazed by thespirit this girl possesses and is drawn to her.  He slips her a musicCD, filled with special Messages to keep her from changing into abrainwashed Candor teen.  He doesn’t tell her that, of course.  Whowould believe that they were being controlled by subliminal Messages? Plus, he hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do with her – shouldhe smuggle her out of Candor and out of his life?  Or should he keepher in the town so they can be friends…or more? 

Pam Bachorz’s Candor is a society that feels eerily plausible. Oscar Banks narrates the story in a natural voice, explaining to thereader how the Messages and the town work as a whole.  Oscar starts outsomewhat self-centered (as anyone in his situation might be, since heis the only teen not repeating the Messages) but as the story goes on,he begins to realize a bit more about himself, Candor, and the what theworld outside must be like.  He starts to see how much of a personalitycan really be suppressed by the Messages, and how far his father willgo to keep the town safe and sterile.

Candor would be a fitting book suggestion for a fan of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series- the bubbly Pretties and the Candor teens have a lot in common.  Buteven if they are not familiar with that series, readers will enjoy thiswell-written, fast-paced (and other hyphenated words) story.

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