As the 2017 Canada Reads debates approach, I will be reading all 5 books. Company Town, by Madeline Ashby, was the first of the contenders and being honest, if it were not for the debates, this would not typically be the kind of book that I would pick up. This book is difficult to categorize yet has aspects of science fiction and dystopia. It is set in a future time, off the shores of the Canadian maritime, on an oil rig. It may not be my typical novel but it should spark terrific discussion at the debates!
Hwa is a bodyguard. She is organic (meaning that her body has not been biologically enhanced). She is natural. She is strong. She is a fighter yet she is emotionally damaged. She grieved over the loss of her beloved brother. She struggled with the relationship with her mother, a prostitute who looked after herself and had not been a warm and loving role model.
She is hired by the powerful Lynch family to keep the youngest son, Joel safe. He had received death threats so she begins to attends school with Joel. As she protects him and teaches him self-defence they form a bond and have to keep one step ahead of the possibility of death. At the same time, there are a series of murders. Each murder impacts Hwa as the victims are her friends who come to tragic, violent ends.
Hwa must determine who to trust and decide who to protect and save while putting her own safety and biologic uniqueness at risk.
This is a very unique novel and led me to investigate company towns which PBS defines as:
“remote locations such as railroad construction sites, lumber camps, turpentine camps, or coal mines, jobs often existed far from established towns. As a pragmatic solution, the employer sometimes developed a company town, where an individual company owned all the buildings and businesses.
In some situations, company towns developed out of a paternalistic effort to create a utopian worker’s village. “
It is interesting to consider a company town as a future alternative to communities. The reader can imagine how inhabitants could be controlled and at the mercy of a company that meets all their needs.
Is this the one book that Canada needs to read? In my opinion, no, but it is a book that forces the reader to consider the future. We are so connected via technology with our phones, our fit bits, our computers and virtual reality that this type of control is not outside the realm of possibility. Medically, transplantations occur, tissue is grown in laboratories and our DNA can be tested, mapped and modified. Sheep have been cloned. Medications and treatments are diligently invented to extend lives through both cure and palliation.
Canadians should read this book and think of the future. Canadians should reflect and consider how quickly technology is evolving and the lasting impacts of inventions and progress. While this may not be the one book that all Canadians need to read, I do recommend this novel and think it would lead to great book club discussion or amazing debates in a high school classroom.