Tuesday 29 March 2016

The Special Ones

The Special Ones written by Em Bailey (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781742976280

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Special Ones is a YA thriller that centres on the lives of four young people living in seclusion on a farm, taken there against their will by a nameless, faceless captor. They are forced to assume different identities adapted from people in an old photograph. There’s ‘the Esther’, ‘the Lucille’, ‘the Felicity’ and ‘the Harry’, who are forced into subsistence-style rural life while their every move is monitored for transgressions. In contrast with their spartan lifestyle, The Special Ones have to communicate online with followers from the outside world, answering their questions and dispensing advice via a chat-room, all the while keeping in their assigned characters to evade punishment.

As the narrative progresses, chilling terminology arises that hints at the mastermind’s madness, like ‘collection’ (which is essentially kidnapping) and ‘renewal’ (being discarded in order to be replaced). The Special Ones must comply with the rules and stick to their roles to avoid the renewal process, which narrator Esther believes most certainly means death.

Conflict arises among the Special Ones when a new Lucille arrives, Harry is summoned for renewal, and Felicity, the youngest, is badly injured. The well-paced narrative manages to unravel the story with the perfect amount of tension and suspense, and takes a gripping turn when the narrator unexpectedly shifts from Esther to The Special Ones’ captor around the halfway mark. Insights into his delusional nature are truly frightening and hint at further trauma to follow, with the action unfolding right until the final few scenes.

The Special Ones is a hard-to-put-down story that delves into the world of cults and psychopaths. It has major crossover appeal, with less coming of age type YA tropes and more themes and ideas that would resonate just as well with the adult market. Unsettling yet absorbing, this is a highly addictive read.

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