Pros: So intense!
Rating: 5 out of 5
Josh Malerman’s Inspection: A Novel blew me away. We’re introduced to J, a boy who’s being raised in an isolated school for geniuses. He and his “brothers” are called the Alphabet Boys, and there were originally 26 of them, one for each letter of the alphabet. Two became “spoiled rotten” and were sent to the Corner–from which no one ever returns. There’s another, almost identical, school, only occupied by the Letter Girls. The two megalomaniacs who run the place (D.A.D. and M.O.M.) believe that distraction by the opposite sex keeps people from reaching their full potential, so they’re raising each group not just separate from the other, but with absolutely no knowledge that the opposite sex even exists! Thanks to a series of events that causes (the boy) J to question what he’s been told, and that causes (the girl) K to realize there’s a second school in the forest, J and K come into contact, and everything starts to come down around their ears.
The only teeny, tiny not-quite-negative that I have about the book is that there’s never any acknowledgement of the fact that some of the kids could turn out to be gay and totally upset the whole idea. But there are two reasons why I think the book’s treatment of this is okay. For one, the kids are only just starting to enter puberty, and don’t even know sex is a thing, so it’s easy to understand why they haven’t really thought about it yet. And for two, I fully believe that M.O.M. and D.A.D. are narrow-minded enough to not have taken the possibility into account. I have a feeling if this book went on for several years the possibility would have come up.
The schools are absolutely fascinating. Marilyn and Richard (M.O.M. and D.A.D.) have thought of (almost) everything. The children are told that if they stray too far from the school they could catch various diseases, such as Vees, Rotts, and Placasores. They’re inspected every morning for any trace of these diseases, ensuring that the children take them very seriously. Each school has its “author in residence” churning out books that reinforce the lessons of the Parenthood (the organization that’s running the whole thing). Marilyn and Richard have the kids conditioned to desire their attention and approval and to tell them everything. They even have games the kids play that condition them to tell the truth at all times. It’s incredibly imaginative.
There are a couple of occasions when J is being asked some very vital questions, where his answers could determine his fate, and he’s going through a lot in his mind. In most authors’ hands this would slow things down and drain away the tension, but somehow Malerman manages instead to increase the tension. There’s just this ongoing feeling of, oh god, J, hurry up and answer before they realize something’s wrong! This book is so utterly intense and tense. I was blown away by how riveted I felt. I definitely plan to read more by Malerman!
Content note: this book does get a bit bloody.