Truancy

You may notice that I've been commenting on quite a few children's or YA books recently and not so many "adult books." I am actually reading a book for adults but it’s been very slow going for me as I'm constantly putting the book down and thinking, either about the language or the content and how it relates to our current economic situation. I'm reading Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and this rate we'll be out of this recession before I finish it. But I'm also reading other books to lighten the load, including one very funny children's book about the pig from Homer's plays, and those are the books I've been discussing. This week I'm going to talk a little about a book called Truancy, written by Isamu Fukui when he was just fifteen-years-old.

Truancy takes place in a totalitarian society where children are subjected to a grueling school experience designed to crush every bit of independent thought and action, with the goal of completely obedient adult citizens. Tack is a high school boy who is dismayed by the abuse he suffers every day in school. The only bright spot in his life is his beloved sister Suzie, a freshman who cheers him up whenever they can squeeze time for each other into their ridiculously busy days. As Tack's teachers behave ever more capriciously Tack becomes depressed and increasingly angry. Then his life takes a big turn when his sister is attacked by bullies on a school sanctioned get the freshmen day.

Tack manages to draw the bullies' attention away from his sister but ends up in trouble himself when he's outnumbered. He runs away, and climbs a fence, landing in a deserted area that has a terrible reputation where the attackers are too frightened to follow him. Tack is afraid he's gone from the fat into the fire but instead of finding the expected brutal vagrants Tack discovers a lone boy reading a book and sipping lemonade. This is Usami, a mysterious teen who teaches Tack some of what's hiding behind the City's secretive façade.

Tack learns that his teachers really are unfair and out to get him and that a growing group of students called the Truancy is fighting back, wreaking destruction on the city. He becomes more confused about what path he should take, or in fact if he should take any path. Should he try to keep his head down and get through school as best he can, with his eye on subverting the system as an adult? When the Mayor cracks down on the Truancy, inflicting the harshest punishment possible on students who have committed even minor offenses, Tack's beloved sister is caught in the crossfire and Tack chooses the path of revenge.

The nicest thing about this book is that it's not all black and white. The shades of grey are what make the story interesting. Instead of just your basic war between good (students) and evil (bureaucracy) there are at least three elements at war with each other. There is the totalitarian city/state that wants to crush everyone into complete obedience and tidiness. There is the rebellious group of student dropouts who want to crush the city/state. And then there is one other idea or movement, which is that of peaceful resistance, education and power through attrition as the senior members of the city/state retire or die of natural causes.

The author has said that many of the characters represent different parts of his own personality. He's also said that this book could only be written by someone who is still in school. It certainly appears to have been fueled by the passion and rage that many of us felt, or feel, at the injustices we've faced in class and on the schoolyard. Truancy is an interesting, fast paced book but the writing is uneven, stilted in places and ultimately too weak for the author's ambitions. This is Mr. Fukui's first novel and I'll be curious to see how he does further in his career as he gains mastery of his craft.

You can read an excerpt from Truancy here, http://us.macmillan.com/BookCustomPage.aspx?isbn=9780765317674#Excerpt. The official website for the book, the author and the upcoming prequel can be found here http://www.thetruancy.com/.

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from Johnny, Combo Player who says, "Magic The Gathering - Unhinged. This (somewhat old) set was designed solely for amusement, making it one of my personal favorites, although not tournament legal. If you have never played Unhinged, look up some of the cards, and you will be amazed. The Mox Lotus is a good place to start, and Gleemax is a good place to finish. Oh, and if you are a more serious player, the lands are beautiful extended art cards, and are tourny legal." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.