Review: The One Safe Place


Title: The One Safe Place

Author: Tania Unsworth

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Publication Date: April 29, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

This was another find from my library’s ebook catalogue. The brief introduction piqued my interest and Unsworth’s captivating story kept my interest throughout the entire book.

A brief summary, from the author’s website:

Devin doesn’t remember life before the world got hot; he has grown up farming the scorched earth with his grandfather in their remote valley. When his grandfather dies, Devin heads for the city. Once there, among the stark glass buildings, he finds scores of children, just like him, living alone on the streets. They tell him rumors of a place for abandoned children, with unlimited food and toys and the hope of finding a new family. But only the luckiest get there.

An act of kindness earns Devin an invitation to the home, but it’s soon clear that it’s no paradise. As Devin investigates the intimidating administrator and the zombie-like sickness that afflicts some children, he discovers the home’s horrific true mission. The only real hope is escape, but the place is as secure as a fortress.

The One Safe Place was a chilling read. Dystopian novels have been so “in” lately that I’ve forgotten how truly haunting they can be. Unfortunately, I can’t say much about the plot without completely spoiling the book. What I can say is that at the beginning of the novel, it seems as though nothing is amiss. But as Devin, the main character, ventures outside of his farm to the city to find help after his grandfather passes away, it quickly becomes clear that this is not the world that we know today. Unsworth gives us hints of a future where global warming has become a major problem and the class system has become even more segregated without shouting in the reader’s face about how this is a futuristic dystopia.

The real meat of the novel comes when Devin and his new ally, Kit, are convinced to come to a home for orphaned children, where they’ll be protected from the rough and tough life on the streets that they have no choice but to live. As you might guess, the place where they go hoping to find safety is more sinister than they would ever believe. And that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

The One Safe Place is reminiscent of The Giver in some ways, and in other ways is more like The Hunger Games, but whatever similarities it might have with earlier dystopian fiction, it certainly has a song of its own. For plot alone, I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars. The only thing lacking was the novel’s voice – it’s written in third person, and there isn’t much variance in sentence structure. This may have been a deliberate choice on the part of the author to keep the writing simplistic, but it was more annoying to me than anything. Perhaps its because I’m so used to reading first-person novels, but the style also made me feel disconnected with the characters at times. I didn’t care about them as much as I wanted to.

Still, the ingenuity of the story made it definitely worth my while. This book would be great for anyone ages 8 to 88 (or older). Its reading level is simple enough for younger readers to comprehend, but the story’s meaning transcends age. It’s a book that left me thinking, and those are great for every reader.

4 out of 5 stars.




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