Friday, September 9, 2016

Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix, 2016

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For the past twelve years, adults called “Freds” have raised Rosi, her younger brother Bobo, and the other children of their town, saying it is too dangerous for them to stay with their parents, but now they are all being sent back. Since Rosi is the oldest, all the younger kids are looking to her with questions she doesn’t have the answers to. She’d always trusted the Freds completely, but now she’s not so sure.
And their home is nothing like she’d expected, like nothing the Freds had prepared them for. Will Rosi and the other kids be able to adjust to their new reality?

(304 pages)

I don't think this is my absolute favorite of Haddix's books, but I can't exactly put my finger on why that is. Perhaps it's a touch too on-the-nose in its social critique; perhaps the reveals at the end are too wild to be entirely believable; perhaps the adults just didn't ring true for me (or if they did, I simply didn't like them). Or perhaps the ending is so bizarre that I honestly can't figure out what to make of it.

I have a hunch, though, that the Children of Exile series as a whole will be great - this book is clearly laying the groundwork for either a breathtaking action series or a thought-provoking social commentary (or both!), and I'm really intrigued to see where on earth the story goes from here. I'm especially interested to see Haddix tackle the ethical dilemmas she presented in Children of Exile, because I honestly have no idea how I feel about everything Rosie finds out in the end.

Speaking of Rosi, I really loved the kids in Children of Exile. I haven't read a character like Rosi in a long time: she's not particularly brave, not particularly clever (at least not that we've seen so far), is a useless fighter but an amazing babysitter, and is altogether too naive to be a good judge of anything. But it's her innocence - and the innocence of the other children - that's so fascinating. They were raised to believe war was a historical trouble, left behind in the stone ages; they were taught to be kind, and good, and to never hit back at anyone but instead to talk out their feelings until things were settled. Their upbringing was like some sort of politically-correct extreme, focused on respecting everyone. And in part, it truly is perfect; if everyone got along the way these children did, then war really wouldn't exist anymore. But after a while, it started to hit me: what sort of world is it, where there's no war or hitting or swearing, or even fighting? Where every conflict between your parents is magically solved in a single private conversation? It's a wonderful world, but it's not a real world. It never can be. That's partly why the children's return to their birth families is so terrible for them - they've lived in a bubble their whole lives, so they can't cope with the real world that is their home.

And that, right there, is why I always love reading Margaret Peterson Haddix novels: because they make me think. They make me look at some dilemma and try to figure out my own views. So just because Children of Exile wasn't a clear favorite of mine right from the get-go doesn't mean it's a bad book by any means - in fact, the more I sit here and chew over it the better I think Children of Exile actually is. I still hold points against it for keeping me at arms length for so long, though. Haddix has written many thought-provoking novels with major plot twists/withheld information, books I absolutely adored from page one. Somehow that didn't happen with Children of Exile, and I'm still a little bit sad about that. I guess every book can't be as perfect as Under Their Skin or Double Identity, right?

The truth is that Children of Exile is one of those books that you read, you analyze, you chew over . . . but you don't really love. I can recommend it as a thought-provoking dystopian novel, but I can't say you'll fall head over heels for it - because I didn't. I still hold out hope for the sequel, where I have complete faith that Haddix will pull all the strings together into a cohesive and fascinating whole; until then, though, my recommendation of Children of Exile as a standalone will have to be slightly tepid. If you do get a chance to read it, definitely comment below and let us know what you think!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest review.

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