The children are kept in cells in an underground facility. Before they are moved out of the cells, they are secured into restraining chairs by military guards and muzzled (“Don’t worry, I won’t bite” says one child). When they are in the classroom, one hand is removed from the restraints so they can write. Unable to turn their heads, the children’s only interaction with each other is in the class, voices heard from the front or the back or the side of where they are sitting.
We do not know why the children are kept like this, but we sense the fear of their handlers who are forbidden to touch them, forbidden to interact with them.
Melanie looks forward to class as the bright spot in her day. She loves learning about everything, including the world outside. Her favourite days, however, are when Miss Justineau teaches the class, telling the children Greek myths including the story of Pandora’s Box. She shows kindness to the children, particularly Melanie, pushing the boundaries of allowed interactions and giving Melanie a book which she conceals in her cell.
The other teachers tell them about the time before the Breakdown, before the Hungries and the wild Junkers.
Several of the children disappear, failing to come to class. Melanie, perceptive as usual, suspects they may have been killed, possibly experimented on. Dr Caldwell has been saving the best till last, but finally can’t wait, and summons Melanie to her lab. Melanie is on the surgery table, head shaved, when all hell breaks loose with a Junker raid.
Without giving too much away (hopefully), Jenny Colgan of the Sunday Times describes this book as “Kazuo Ishiguro meets The Walking Dead”.
This is an edgy, original dystopian novel with several fascinating twists. Highly recommended.