Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26.00, 320 pages, ISBN 978-0-374-16562-8
This week is Halloween and the last of our first-ever Freak-Fest, celebrating novels with creepy characters, angels, demons, or things that creak, sneak and chomp in the dark of the night. Send us your thoughts—social media, snail mail or eee mail—let us know if you liked it or not and why . . . maybe we’ll do it again.
After all the supernatural mayhem of the past four weeks, we’re dialing it down to close out FF#1 by reading a thought provoking Sci-Fi novel with the ironic name, Goodhouse, by Peyton Marshall. It’s partially based on the true story of a nineteenth-century reform school . . . The Preston School of Industry in Ione, California . . . a facility that closed on June 2, 2011 after operating continuously for 117 years and affecting thousands of lives.
Goodhouse is a stunning debut that’s entertaining, imaginative and intensely literate. It’s a novel “You don’t want to end, but can’t stop reading”. It’s a story that takes place in a near-future United States where, at the end of the twenty-first century, all the male children of convicted felons are tested for a certain set of genetic markers . . . that indicate they’ll become criminals. Those who test positive are made wards of the state, taken forcefully from their homes and sent to “Goodhouse” campuses, where they’re taught to reform their darkest thoughts and impulses before being allowed to rejoin society. Those who cannot be rehabilitated are sent to prison, where they never leave.
Goodhouse campuses are found all across the country. They’re part reform school, part prison, and completely savage—a place where each boy is forced to do hard labor in one or more prison-type industries—where every boy has to fight just to survive. Now, a radical religious group called the Holy Redeemer’s Church of Purity, known as the Zeros by the inmates, is trying to destroy the Goodhouse facilities and purify the incarcerated boys with fire . . . by burning them alive.
The story is told in the first person by James Goodhouse (the boys are all given new names at intake and forced to adopt Goodhouse as their surnames which forever brands them as potential evil-doers ) a seventeen year-old transfer student and sole survivor of a Zero attack that burned his dormitory, and immolated all of his classmates. Sent on an off-campus release-time work project, James meets Bethany, a beautiful, brilliant and fragile girl his own age who has had a heart transplant. She wants to rescue him from certain death at the hands of her father, the chief medical officer at the Ione Goodhouse. He’s conducting a sinister and illegal research project using the inmates as subjects. Bethany’s father, Dr. Cleveland, is hoping to make billions of dollars if his research project succeeds.
Goodhouse, with it’s real life connections, examines questions of identity, free will and human endurance, as well as the ethics of for-profit prisons. It’s an exciting novel that is intellectually stimulating, thought provoking and enjoyable reading from a bright young author who’s clearly a rising star in the literary world.