TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
"Candor," Pam Bachorz's debut novel for teens, reminded me a bit of Lois Lowry's classic dystopian novel, "The Giver." Both books involve closed, scientifically advanced societies with staggering levels of conformity and social control. The biggest difference? I can actually imagine Bachorz's Candor, Florida, where teens are controlled through subliminal messages, existing right now, in America in 2009. I know, creepy!
Perfect — literally, in this case — high school junior Oscar Banks leads us through the story of Candor, and he's a compelling character. Oscar's dad created Candor after the drowning death of his older brother. Mr. Banks envisioned a utopian community where everyone was kind, respectful, hardworking, clean, and prompt. To ensure all these wonderful characteristics among the populace, all of Candor is bathed in music that contains subliminal messages.
Candor is a haven for families with troubled teens; just a few weeks after arriving, even the most rebellious kid loses his piercings, starts donning khakis and polos, and becomes polite, compliant, and utterly dull. See, that's the problem with Candor — everyone is exactly the same, which is to say, perfect. No one has personality, humor, or a sense of adventure, all of which are far too dangerous not to be stamped out by the messages.
No one, that is, except Oscar Banks. Oscar long ago figured out what his dad was up to in Candor, and he devised a way around it. Oscar programs his own messages into his personal music, which he plays at nearly every possible moment to counteract Candor's official messages. For a hefty fee (payable in money, goods, or sex), Oscar will also save newly arrived teens before they're completely brainwashed, providing them with his own message-blocking CDs and safe passage out of Candor. For obvious reasons — there's a horrible place called the Listening Room where minds and memories can be erased — Oscar has to carefully hide his secret persona from his dad and peers. To the rest of Candor, Oscar is the charming, handsome, smart, perfect hero; by himself, he's cunning, shallow, occasionally weak, and a risk taker. In this way, Oscar represents many "real world" teens who often feel they have to act differently to fit in at different moments in their lives.
When Oscar meets Nia, a free-spirited artist newly arrived in Candor, he sets out to prevent her from being ruined (er, perfected) by the town's messages. But Oscar falls so hard for Nia that he doesn't want her to leave town. Instead, Oscar provides her with some of his CDs, specially designed for Nia, which he believes will be strong enough to prevent her assimilation. Nia soon falls for Oscar, too, although even Oscar, in his darkest moments, must wonder whether her feelings are real or just an after effect of Oscar's messages. Bachorz very subtly — and very effectively — raises the issue of Oscar's own selfishness and need for control, allowing the reader to judge for herself just how much Oscar resembles his dad. I was surprised at how complex a character Oscar turns out to be. Similarly, Mr. Banks is never shown as purely evil; he's more a hurt, self-deluded man stubbornly convinced he knows what's best.
"Candor" is an engaging, disturbing tale of difference and forced conformity. Today's teens should find much to relate to here. I'd say that some of the language and situations gear this book toward older middle school and high school students, but you all know yourselves best. I found "Candor" to be smart and troubling, and I'm sure it will raise lots of discussion among its readers. Enjoy!