Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rash - Pete Hautman

Summary:  Consumption of alcohol: Illegal.
Football and other "violent" sports: Illegal.
Ownership of guns, chainsaws, and/or large dogs:  Illegal.
Body piercings, tattoos: Illegal.

It's late in the twenty-first century, and the United Safer States of America (USSA) has become a nation obsessed with safety.  For Bo Marsten, a teenager who grew up in the USSA, it's all good.  He knows the harsh laws were created to protect the people.  But when Bo's temper flares out of control and he's sentenced to three years of manual labor, he's not so down with the law anymore.

Bo's forced to live and work in a factory in the Canadian tundra.  The warden running the place is totally out of his mind, and cares little for his inmates' safety.  Bo will have to decide what is worse: a society that locks people up for road rage, or a prison where the wrong move could make you polar bear food.  (Summary from book - Image from

My Review:  “What good is freedom if you’re dead?” That is the unofficial motto of the United Safer States of America. 

Bo Marsten can run the 100 meter dash in under 14 seconds. Sure, his grandpa could run it in eleven, but that was before the Child Safety Act required every high school runner to wear a full set of protective gear (including safety shoes, knee and elbow pads, neck brace, tooth guard, wrist monitor, and a FDHHSS-certified sports helmet). Bo’s grandfather remembers a time when things were different. When children could run free, and men played tackle football. His character provides an essential contrast between how the world used to be and what happens when people lose all good sense. As Grandpa so succinctly puts it, “This country went to h*ll the day we decided we’d rather be safe than free.”

When Bo is accused of intentionally spreading a contagious disease, only to learn he was set up by his archenemy, he flies off the handle and gets sentenced to the McDonald’s Rehabilitation and Manufacturing Center for his rash behavior. There he is forced to make frozen pizzas day in and day out until he is given an opportunity to “improve” his situation. Despite all odds, it is among convicts that Bo makes friends and learns that he can control himself, and his own destiny. When a chance encounter with a quirky character from his past turns into an early release from the program, Bo learns that sometimes you have to run without safety gear.

I enjoyed this story. It was such a quick and easy read that, if it weren’t for some of the language, I would recommend it for any age group. The world Hautman created, with all its safety regulations, raised issues about the dangers of securing public safety at the cost of personal freedoms. I feel like that specific topic is very relevant, that our world could be sliding towards a similar ideology, and that this book could provide a lot of opportunities for discussion in a classroom or casual book club setting.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Mild crass language and profanity. With a teenage boy as a main character it’s difficult to escape some of the boy humor (e.g. farts, dog’s behinds, etc.) that comes with the territory. However, I was a little disappointed with some of the grandfather’s language. I understand that he is supposed to be a “rebellious” character, and profanity was one of the best ways to convey that, but I could have lived with out the swearing and occasionally crass language.

Sum it up: An interesting commentary on the issue of sacrificing personal freedoms to secure public safety and the dangers big government…or just a story about a kid who learns that being “safe” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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