The picture-perfect new town of Candor, Florida, is attracting more and more new families, drawn by its postcard-like small-town feel, with white picket fences, spanking-new but old-fashioned-looking homes, and neighborliness.
But the parents are drawn by something else as well. They know that in Candor their obstreperous teenagers will somehow become rewired - they'll learn to respect their elders, to do their chores, and enjoy their homework. They'll give up the tattoos, metal music, and partying that have been driving their parents crazy. They'll become every parent's dream.
While there is no evidence that subliminal messages work, Pam Bachorz takes full advantage of the idea behind subliminal messages and has created a dsytopian novel that is definitely reminiscent of the Stepford Wives. With its picture perfect setting of American suburbia, Bachorz explores the theme of individualism versus conformity and the gives new meaning to the phrase “to good to be true.”
As in most dystopian novels setting is important to the story’s success and Bachorz did a fantastic job creating Candor, Florida. Located in an isolated area, Candor is a completely self-sufficient town boasting large house, and great schools. With a waiting list for houses and a million dollar price tag, Oscar Bank’s father’s dream of creating the idyllic place to raise a family is successful because of the “Messages,” which fix everything. “Everyone is saturated with Messages from the day they move in. Speakers are installed in bushes downtown, at the parks, in the stores –-- not just school. And then parents play special custom tapes, ‘boosters’ at home.” It only takes a week or so before the kids are making their beds, cleaning, cooking, and doing homework: a virtual parental paradise.
While I liked how carefully Bachorz crafted Candor as the backdrop for her story, Oscar was not a character I cared a lot about. As Candor’s poster boy, Oscar is the only kid in town who has knowledge of the subliminal messages that reduces all kids to automatons, spouting prerecorded phrases:
Respect your parents
Academics are the key to success
Studying is your first priority
Respectful space in every place
Keep Candor pretty
Oscar uses this knowledge to help new kids escape at a price. From Oscar’s first person narration, the reader sees Candor through his eyes, and while I did have empathy for his situation, and admired his personal strength to fight off the Messages, I also cringed at his own manipulation, which bordered on being a parody of his father. This becomes most obvious when he meets Nia, the snarky, skate boarding and graffiti artist, who becomes the object of his desire because she is the opposite of every other girl in town. While he wants to prevent Nia from falling victim to the Messages, he ends up following in his father’s footsteps and manipulates Nia without her knowledge.
Still Candor is a fast and chilling read that forces the reader to explore how using manipulation and taking away free will to force individuals to conform to a set of standards, will in effect cause rebellion. I just wish Oscar’s rebellion had been more selfless. Had it been, I think I would have embraced his character more.