Monday, February 15, 2010
Running Out of Time--Margaret Peterson Haddix
February 15, 2010
At the recommendation of one of my students, I picked up this young fiction novel after we read in class. The elements of a dystopian society are juxtaposed with modern society. In an elementary and somewhat simplistic way, the issues of unchecked power and abuse of modern science and technology are explored. Actually, I was reminded, as I was reading, of the movie " ," though I expect the intended audience is not yet old enough to watch that film.
In the novel, Jessie is a young girl growing up in 1840, a simpler time of hard work and rustic, rugged values. However, in her tiny little town of Clifton, a powerful outbreak of diptheria threatens the lives of many of the children of the village. With great trepidation, her mother, the one who is called to tend to the sick and dying, reveals an almost unbelievable secret. The year is NOT, as Jessie believes, 1840. It is actually 1996, and Jessie and all of her neighbors are living in an elaborate frontier village that the world outside views through hidden cameras as a tourist attraction. Several years past, the adults banded together to escape the growing danger and instability of the outside world and with the help of a few powerful men on the outside, set up a virtually self-sustaining and isolated society. They had agreed for the sake of authenticity to raise the children of the villiage to believe they were from that earlier time.
The only real modern advances would be medical--medicine would be sent in secretly to the village on a regular basis in order to maintain the health of the inhabitants. Within the past few months however, just prior to the diptheria outbreak, the medicine stopped being delivered, with no explanation. Jessie's mom sends her on a dangerous mission out in the real world--a world completely unfamiliar to her, to seek help and to find out why this has happened. The village is heavily guarded so that no one can either exit or enter, but Jessie must find a way to escape--lives are at stake.
As Jessie makes her way to 1996, readers follow her journey not only to find help, but to find answers as well. How did the village come to be? Why? Whose interests are being served? Why has the medicine stopped coming? Why is the outside of the village so heavily guarded? We as readers are not disappointed as Jessie explores all of these questions. The author's writing style is at times a bit choppy and occasionally heavy-handed, but I was impressed at the way in which she was able to address some fairly complex issues in a novel geared at a young audience. Kids who enjoy this novel might find their way a few years down the road to an appreciation of 1984, , The Road, and yes, The Handmaid's Tale.