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The International Writers Magazine: Children's Books

The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth
Orion Children’s Books 2nd Jan 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4440-1022-0
• Sam Hawksmoor
Tania Unsworth has conjured up a curious mix of dystopian future and Billy Bunter at Greyfriars that is quite disturbing. It begins on a farm where young Devin is working with his Grandfather, learning all he can about farming and caring for animals, but sadly his grandfather dies and Devin is unable to cope and sets out to the city to find someone who might want to come and live on the farm and work.

But this is no ideal world.  Most of the countryside is abandoned, climate change has wreaked havoc and when he finally arrives in the city he discovers that the difference between rich and poor is immense.  He’s a country bumpkin here, and it’s crawling with feral kids who’ll think nothing of beating you senseless and stealing all you’ve got.

Devin meets Kit, an eleven-year old girl surviving on her own, stealing little treasures she keeps on the roof of an abandoned building.  She reluctantly teaches Devin to be streetwise and where to go to shelter from the rare moments it rains.  He learns to steal although it’s against his nature.

Enter Roman, a confident kid who lures Devin to a 'safe place' where kids are treated special and get plenty to eat.  Devin won’t go without Kit, but the deal is struck and suddenly they are whisked of to a kids paradise where they get to have as much jelly as they can eat and they get to play all day and no school.

Kit loves it but Devin is wary.  Why are all these kids who go to the 'place' stuck in some nightmare dream? Why do they do weird things when they come out?  The Administrator thinks he is unique and has special talents.  Devin can hear the music of stars, but what use is that to anyone he thinks? What is really going on in the Gabriel H Penn Home for Childhood and who are the visitors spying on them?

Tania Unsworth has created a curious book here.  Creepy yes, but if set in the future that is devastated by climate change we don’t really get enough sense of how the economy works except that the rich seem to own all the water. The Child’s home with all the wonderful food and colourful kids all desperate to be adopted by rich parents is so much a throwback to a kind of jolly hockeysticks and cream bun fiction that was prevalent in the 1950’s it doesn’t quite gel.  There is a good creepy yarn here and Kit and Devin are wonderful characters, there’s even a psychic pig – but it’s too cute for dystopian fiction but probably perfect for hungry ten year olds looking for a conspiracy.

© Sam Hawksmoor  December 2013
author of The Repercussions of Tomas D

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