A dramatic, disturbing but ultimately uplifting story of one boy’s escape from the all controlling ‘Coalition’ in England: this is Nineteen Eighty-Four for a post-Brexit world. Highly recommended.
Newly orphaned Jake is determined to escape from his Home Academy and to find a new home with his dog, Jet. He thinks his biggest challenge is going to be getting out and over the wall but, when he does, he finds this is the least of his worries. The governing ‘Coalition’ is able to track everyone in the country via the ‘hub chip’ in their neck and in no time ‘the hubbers’ (police) are on his trail. All seems lost until Jake stumbles into a gang of outwalker kids. After proving his worth, he is permitted to join their gang and together they set out on a perilous journey north towards the heavily guarded border with Scotland.
Outwalkers is a dramatic and, at times, disturbing story. This is partly because of the strength of the writing and the detailed creation of England under the all controlling ‘Coalition’ and also because it could so easily be true. England has turned in on itself, deporting all foreigners and building a Trump-style ‘New Wall’ to prevent travel between England and Scotland. To use the publisher’s words it describes a truly chilling possible future reality. Given the contemporary relevance, it’s surprising to read in the note from the author on the title page that the story was actually conceived three years before the Brexit vote and a year before the Scottish referendum.
I felt an affinity with our main character, Jake, from page one when we witness his attempt to escape his Home Academy. At this point we don’t know what a Home Academy is but Jake’s desperation leaves us in no doubt what it is like. Author, Fiona Shaw, then cleverly introduces us to her near future world in incremental details that make it all too disturbing.
While the characterisation is strong, it is the detail in the world building that makes this book so impactful. Hours and days after putting it down, I found certain images stayed with me – the pink come grey walking boots that Jake is forced to steal from his former neighbour and Martha’s fingers as she washes Jake’s hair. Indeed, I can still see the image of Jake and Aliya’s outstretched hands separated by glass in the climax. I could go on but you get the idea.
The plot is gripping and the hard hitting nature of the book meant I was in constant fear that one or more of the gang were not going to make it to the end of the story. I also loved, and feared, for Jake’s dog, Jet. In many respects the bond between Jake and Jet reminded me of Todd and Manchee in The Knife of Never Letting Go and, if you’ve read that, you’ll understand my concern whether both boy and dog would make it to Scotland. (Sorry – you’ll have to read the book to find out).
My only niggle with this book is that it took me a while to get used to reading dialogue without the traditional inverted commas for speech. Even when I’d become accustomed to this stylistic choice, there were occasions when this unusual punctuation meant I had to re-read a few sentences to be confident I was on the right track. However, even with these slight stumbles, this is a beautifully written, powerful and moving story that will appeal to teens and adults alike.
If you enjoyed this, you should check out two other powerful teen stories which have equally unorthodox but powerful writing styles – Blood Red Road by Moira Young or The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.
Date: February 2018
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Author: Fiona Shaw
Review first published on The Bookbag