Thursday, October 03, 2019

Middle-Grade Review: The One Safe Place

My first audio book, downloaded free from SYNC this summer, for the annual fall RIP XIV Challenge was The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, a middle-grade dystopian/sci fi adventure. I enjoyed listening to this haunting story, loaded with suspense and unpredictable developments.

Devin was very happy living with his grandfather in a protected valley on their small family farm. Between the two of them, they could manage caring for the farm, but after his grandfather died, Devin realized he couldn't do it on his own. He left for the city that his grandfather had told him about, though he'd never been there before himself. He was stunned to find such a dirty, decrepit place where many children, orphaned like him, were living in the streets and almost starving, barely staying alive by stealing food. Though most of the surrounding countryside has been abandoned due to terrible chronic drought, Devin notices one section with green lawns and big houses, where the wealthy live. Devin soon meets Kit, a vibrant girl full of life, who shows him the ropes and lets him share her rooftop "home." They are still struggling for food, but at least Devin has a friend now.

One day, Devin is picked up in a huge car, convinced by a boy to come to the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood, where the boy says children are well cared-for and have everything they need, including plenty of food. Devin says he won't go without Kit, so the two of them join the latest recruits and are driven far outside the city to a beautiful campus filled with children who are well-dressed and well-fed, with all the toys and amusements they could ever want. So why don't they look happy? Devin soon realizes that this is no ordinary orphanage. Something feels "off" about the place from the first day and eventually, Devin learns the Home's terrible secret. He must come up with a plan to save himself and Kit - and all the other innocent children, too. But how?

I enjoyed this original story set in a slightly futuristic world that is easily imaginable from our own. Devin and Kit are both likable characters, with plenty of depth that is slowly revealed throughout the story. The audio was well done, with Mark Turetsky voicing Devin's narration and bringing this world to life. Suspense grows in this creative, imaginative, and very, very creepy story filled with surprises. The sense of dread slowly builds, as Devin and the other children learn what is really going on at Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood. Middle-grade readers needn't be scared, though. This group of smart, resourceful kids figures things out in the end, in a rousing, exciting, and very satisfying conclusion.

304 pages, Algonquin Young Readers

Listen to a sample of the excellent audio book, a scene from the start of the novel, while Devin is still on his grandfather's farm.

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  1. It sounds like the author did a good job of using the ordinary (homelessness, drought, "abductions," to bring the reader into an other-worldly experience.

    1. Yes, I think the best dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories do have elements of our real world in them.