Scholastic, 2000. 978-0-7569-1004-4
Synopsis: After the Big Shake that has destroyed most of modern life as we know it, living spaces are divided into latches ruled by various gangs that often go to war with each other. Genetically modified humans, called proovs, are kept separate from the general population, called normals; those with deformities are shunned as outcasts and often canceled. Spaz is one of those deefs – an epileptic who has been taken in by The Bangers, the gang that controls the latch where he lives. When he goes to steal from an old man (gummy) named Ryter, he learns about something called a book, something no one knows about anymore because of probing. Probing lets someone experience movies, pictures, books, etc. inside their head, like they are actually there. Ryter teaches Spaz about the value of the human language and how he himself is a book waiting to be written, but first he must survive to be able to record it.
Why I picked it up: The title reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode.
Why I finished it: The plot was a sort of combination of The Giver and A Clockwork Orange with its vision of perfection, strange slang, and sense of imminent doom characteristic of science fiction novels. Spaz is an engaging narrator and emanates the traditional teenage and pre-teen feelings of trying to figure out his sense of self, where he belongs in the world, and what he believes in, against a backdrop of the world falling apart around him. Philbrick creates an interesting contrast between perfection and imperfection with the proovs and the normals, but doesn’t do very much with this even though it feels like it should be the crux of the story. The worlds created within the text of the novel are believable and strange, but a distinctly plausible vision of the future and where we are headed. Ryter’s ability to remember the old times and ask the tough questions not wanting to be asked by the characters helps to weave a backstory into the narrative that allows the reader to form a sort of history of this world and to think ahead to their own futures.
Other related materials: Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick; Max the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick; The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick; Monster by Walter Dean Meyers; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson Haddix; The Crispin: Cross of Lead by Avi; Code Orange by Caroline B. Cooney