America at the end of the 21st century: 17-year-old James doesn’t even know what his real name is, though he feels if someone uses it one day, he’ll know it’s his. Kindness to others is not an option at Goodhouse, a brutally run corrective school for boys with criminal genes.
Awaiting him over the barbed wires of the school are the Zeros, a religious group who aim to rid the planet of impure boys like those at Goodhouse. But for James, his greatest threat is not the fundamentalists outside. His dream of walking through the gates as a civilian may yet be destroyed by the much deadlier threat from within …
A bold, visionary tale of a forseeable future where genetic profiling is meant to prevent crime, but instead becomes a tool for oppression, GOODHOUSE poses urgent questions about freedom and slavery and what it means to be alive.
Only my second read of 2016 is this young adult dystopia that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while but due to there being so many other books to read I’ve never really gotten around to doing so, however, thankfully, when I did eventually start reading Peyton Marshall’s Goodhouse, it wasn’t a disappointment. Whilst it wasn’t the most memorable read ever, it was a good thought provoking one that questions what happens when we know people have criminal blood in their genes, because they’re descended from someone who has committed a crime in the past. They’re sentenced to the Goodhouse, given different names and new purposes from an early age, and they know no other life. It’s not quite a dystopia because the world outside the Goodhouse is still fairly recognisable, after all, it’s only at the end of the 21st century in America, not in say, Panem or a ravaged wasteland, and offers an interesting read that is pretty quick to get through.
The main character that we are introduced to is James, which isn’t his real name, but the name he was given by the Goodhouse. He’s one of the boys with genes deemed impure, which puts a target on his back from groups like the Holy Redeemer’s Church of Purity, who believe that they should be destroyed. However, as James digs closer to the truth he soon learns that the Zeroes are not the only threat that he has to overcome. It’s an interesting story that develops well, keeping the dramatis personae short so that we spent most of the time with James, but also with the likes of James’ cellmate, Owen, a painter, and Bethany, who is the lead female character, and the only other real main protagonist apart from James. She acts as a wildcard, not following the rules and questioning everything that James knows.
The decision to explore different people’s attitudes to the Goodhouse and what goes on inside its walls really works. The religious group are fanatical, almost reminiscent of the Purifiers from the X-Men comics and to a lesser extent, the Guilty Remnant from The Leftovers. They are always lurking in the background and targeting the Goodhouses across America, and show the reader how religion can be corrupted and how it isn’t necessarily a perfect tool.
There are a few problems with Goodhouse however. It doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and you’ll have seen the plot so many times before in movies. There are echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 and Michael Bay’s The Island (which itself isn’t the most original movie ever), and borrows several key themes from novels or films that we’ve encountered before. There’s nothing new or fresh about James and Bethany either, who lack the development that they need to really leave an impression on the reader.
But that’s not to say the book is bad, though. Peyton Marshall’s Goodhouse is handled well, and there are worse novels out there. The pace is solid, the prose is well written and the ideas are executed mostly solidly. It’s just that it does nothing to really stand out from the pack.