Summary: Upon returning to New Middleton after attending his Aunt Sylvia’s funeral, Max notices that children at his sister Ally’s school are beginning to change. Once playful, rambunctious and loud children have become docile and rule-abiding, all impulsivity and free-thinking removed. This behaviour is spreading up the school grades thanks to mandatory ‘vaccinations,’ and Max and his friend Dallas find themselves pretending to be zombies just to fit in after Max’s mother rescues them from getting the shot. Living in a society that focuses on using its resources to build the best worker possible, Max’s family must decide how many rights they are willing to give up for what the community considers to be the greater good.
Number of Pages: 300
Age Range: 15-17
Review: All Good Children by Catherine Austen is sharply written, from the movies Xavier watches to the way Max and Dallas perfect the art of zombie speak to pass as vaccinated students at their school. It’s a complex piece of writing that explores the removal of rights from a society, causing them to lose the most precious thing of all, the innocence and joy of childhood and growing up.
Such a serious topic is injected with wonderful moments of humour while honouring Max and Dallas’s feelings of hopeless resulting from being powerless to stop the situation. I enjoyed their conflict about trusting the grown ups who decided the vaccination was the right thing to do, and the clarity that comes with youth over decisions adults find morally ambiguous.
Plus, I loved the characters. Austen presents us with another memorable little sister in Ally, who starts out sweet and extremely loveable but becomes quite creepy after she gets the shot. Xavier’s character is informative, and Max and Dallas are a comedy team while being the best of friends.
I can’t end this review without commenting on the Canadians Max and his family encounter in the book. It was the one part that got under my skin, because they come off as being incredibly arrogant. I think my patriotic self was a bit injured in my reading.
All Good Children should be considered a classic dystopian read and I would recommend it for mid teen readers.
“‘Where did these come from?’ Ally asks, holding my chip bags.
I shrug. ‘They must be yours.’
She turns them over, puzzled, before tucking them in her seat pocket. Then she leans into my chest and holds her teddy up to the window.
I kiss her head and love her like crazy, my gullible good-hearted sister.” – Max from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, page 10
“Ever since I flipped open my first box of sixty-four crayons at the age of three, art supplies have made my heart race. Paint, ink, my mother’s nail polish, even the juxtaposition of wet and dry concrete makes me tremble. My mind reels around tonal variation, the sheer number of blues you can lay side by side.” – Max from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, page 80
“‘It’s not funny,’ Xavier says. ‘One by one, our rights are being stripped. Freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of organization. You don’t care because you’re where you want to be. But one day they’ll control us in a way that matters to you, Max. Then you’ll have to choose if you’re going to go along with them or fight back.'” – Xavier from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, page 91
“I get up and go inside the tent. I can’t sit down. I turn in circles and watch the walls blur by. I know exactly what I’m going to paint for the exhibit.
I’ll paint children, dozens of them, real ones – Tyler and Pepper and Xavier, me and Dallas, Bay and Brennan, Montgomery and Kayla, Saffron and Chicago, the baby on the sidewalk yesterday, Zachary and Melbourne from the park, Lucas from downstairs, the high school kids on skateboards, the throwaways on skates. I’ll paint all of us doing what we used to – dancing and running and fighting and playing and laughing and being kids. I’ll paint us on the walls inside the tent where I’m hiding now, in dazzling hues and luminance. I’ll leave the walls outside dull gray, stenciled with a single word. I’ll call the whole thing Withstanding on a Perilous Planet. And I’ll give it to Xavier as a belated birthday present. I’ll tell him it’s a metaphor.” – Max from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, pages 170-171
“She holds up her hand to stop me from interrupting, but I interrupt anyway. ‘Maybe we should all stay,’ I say. ‘What if things are worse in Canada? Isn’t that a theme through history – people go off in search of a better land but they end up in some nightmare and wish they’d never left in the first place?’
‘There’s also the theme of people going off in search of a better land and finding a better land.’
‘But if we’re the only ones – ‘
‘You’re not.’ She takes my face in her hands. ‘There is a whole world out there full of normal children, Max. We think because we’re trapped here that this is our only choice, but it’s not. We’ll be okay. Like you said, I’m a nurse. I can find work. We can go anywhere.'” – conversation between Max and his mother from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, pages 225-226
“Mr. Reese doesn’t participate. He shows a documentary, assigns a reading, points to questions on the screen, goes about his duties like a secretary to his former self. I hate him and all that he withstands. I hate him like I hate my mother, whom I love and wish I didn’t hate but I can’t help it. I hate every adult who feels bad about what they’re doing and does it anyway, sighing with every breath, clinging to the notion that they’re good people in bad times. I hate them for not standing up for me. I hate them for not helping me stand up for myself. I hate them for not teaching me to care about all the people they mowed down before they got around to us. I hope they choke on all their coffee-talk and tissues.” – Max from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, page 237
“Dallas was right – living with hope is like rubbing up against a cheese grater. It keeps taking slices off you until there’s so little left you just crumble.” – Max from All Good Children by Catherine Austen, page 262