In the late 21st century in the USSA United Safer States of America safety is paramount. Citizens of the USSA live longer than in any other country, but 24 percent of all adults are in prison, and the economy depends on their labor. McDonald’s Rehabilitation and Manufacturing is the largest employer in the nation, running prison farms, factories and restaurants.
Sixteen-year-old Bo Marsten has been at odds with this society, and now he is in trouble with the three-strikes-and-you’re-out spirit of the times. He threw a pencil in class, called someone a name and shoved a fellow student in the hallway, all very unsafe behaviors. This in a society where a person can be sent away for dropping an apricot if someone slips on it, where everyone must wear walking helmets, where walls are padded and freeways automated. Now Bo has been falsely accused of causing a rash afflicting students at his school. He is arrested and sent to work in a pizza factory in the middle of Canada, now an annexed property of the USSA after the Diplomatic Wars of 2055.
Escape seems impossible, as vicious polar bears roam outside the gates and a sadistic warden rules within. But escape does come with the help of a computer-generated artificial intelligence named Bork, and Bo journeys across 26 miles of no man’s land to return home.
In his latest novel, National Book Award-winning author Pete Hautman has created a fascinating satire of where society’s current trends might lead us. The humor is often coarse, with plenty of farting, faces compared to dog anuses and the like. But there is friendship in the form of an overweight cellmate, incarcerated for eating too much and sentenced to lose 200 pounds, and a family relationship that becomes important, as Bo comes to appreciate his grandfather’s criticism of the modern times and the glory of his beer-drinking, less safe past. This fast-paced, plot-driven satire will appeal to young teenagers who enjoy the what if? speculations of futuristic novels. Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.