Book Review One Of Us Craig Delouie
Trigger warnings for anyone who wants to read this book.
Mentions of rape, sexual assault, violence, suicide, torture, racial hatred and child abuse.
In the 1960s the sexual revolution led to a mutated STD which resulted in children with severe genetic mutations. Known as the ‘plague children’ and cast out as monsters, these mutations varied from a boy with the face of a dog to a Minotaur-like child, one with his face on upside down and girl with a second pair of teeth inside her head ready to come out when she was threatened.
The knee- jerk reaction was to take these children away from their parents and lock them up in ‘care homes’, away from the public.
In 1984, when the novel is set, these children are farmed out as slave labour, abuse and tortured in the name of saving their souls. These children are just beginning to understand their place in the world, just as certain powers are beginning to manifest.
Dog is one of the children who has an almost puppy-ish view of humans being good and someday accepting him. His genius friend knows better and is slowly starting the revolution.
When one of the girls in the town gets raped by one of the creepy custodians and he dies, fingers start pointing at the children in the Home. Another girl is killed and the whole town sets their minds to eradicating the children only to find that the children who look like the mythical beasts of old are now starting to show god-like powers. Slaves who suddenly realise they have more power than their masters.
Fundamentally this is a coming of age story with a difference. According to the author’s notes it is supposed to examine prejudices and show that sometimes the real ‘monsters’ are those who are outside the walls.
In reality it didn’t do that.
When I picked up the story I assumed it would be an X-men meets Dark Angel tale of specially powered kids breaking out and facing the world. In reality it was far darker and far more horror than I had been expecting.
I think one of my main issues with this is that it genuinely felt like it was set back further in time. It was supposed to be the eighties but I thought it felt almost 1950s in its mentality.
The preacher’s fire and brimstone sermons, the Sheriff looking the other way, the children being farmed out as unpaid slaves and told it was for their own good was a retelling of segregation and racial intolerance with a different face. If it wasn’t for the few instances of talking about television sets and certain cars I would have sworn it was a post-war novel
Evil Home manager, creepy custodians, innocent young girl wanting to make a change, the preacher’s son on the wrong side of his father, the black teacher who was kind and in a secret relationship with a white guy, the Sherriff with a terrible secret. It was like the whole town was stuck in a time warp and ticked all of the stereotype boxes.
If you are going to write about prejudice and how we are all monsters it’s almost lazy writing to do it in Southern America, during segregation, where you just know it isn’t going to have a happy ending.
If you want to challenge the modern audience then bring it up to date and introduce the social age of tolerance to our scared primitive fear of monsters and see how progressive we are then.
It was an interesting subject which I think could have been explored better in a different setting but it was compelling enough to keep me reading. Just be aware that it is often gruesome and has the potential of triggering someone.