I really wanted to like One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, I really did. It’s not that I actively disliked the book, but the concept that would have been unique was spoiled for me by the fact that I had already read Starters and Enders, so I guessed what was happening early on in the story. Just like those books I did like the juxtaposition that part of the population after apocalyptic conditions are dirty, poor and starving like characters in a Charles Dickens novel, but that a small part of the population is not only healthy, but still wealthy and still in possession of modern technology and conveniences. It’s a startling picture, but maybe that’s how such a future would go down here where you have the 1% and the 99%, the former are so wealthy these days that even an apocalypse may not make much of a dent in their lifestyle.
I also liked that instead of one megastorm, viral attack or war, that the apocalypse isn’t one event, but just a decline of environmental conditions happening over an extended period until things are in bad shape. Again, that seems realistic to me given the current state of fracking, carbon pollution, and industrial pollution. It’s not just one deadly thing or event that can destabilize the planet, but a set of issues that together and over time can put us in decline.
However, Devin doesn’t know about all that, he’s just a young boy not even in his teens and has never known the world any other way, though his Grandpa did. Unfortunately, Gramps isn’t around anymore to tell him stories of the old days, so Devin decides to venture out of his idyllic valley and go to the city that Gramps has told him stories about. That’s where his life takes a Dickensian turn, he is robbed by a bunch of young ruffians and hungry and alone on the streets until he meets a fellow urchin named Kit who tries to teach the naïve kid some streets smarts such as stealing.
A good deed puts Devin in the position of an offer to live in the Gabriel H. Penn Home for Childhood, where children and well fed and apparently unicorns prance and wishes come true. Even the streetwise Kit doesn’t want to believe the sinister hints that all is not what it seems in this paradise that now changes from Dickensian England to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I think the mystery of what happens in the children’s home should have been drawn out much longer to build up a Gaslight type of suspense instead of quickly turning into The Great Escape. I also could have done without Devin having a special ability, it’s not an ability that helps except for in one scene, yet a lot of pages are devoted to it. I suspect it’s a personal interest of the author that she wanted to find a way to include in the story, but it’s not naturally woven into the pages, it feels forced and distracts from the core story. I think with the changes I suggest this could have been a pretty interesting story but it just fell short for me.