Rebecca Ore,
Outlaw School
(Eos, 2000)

Rebecca Ore posits a grim future that is not at all far-fetched in Outlaw School.

Jayne isn't like other children. The child of middle-management-level parents in a society where occupational class determines educational status, she tests higher than she is expected to, and thus her path is set from the start.

Put on drugs in school to manage her behavior, Jayne tries a desperate measure, only to find herself in a worse situation. She is offered an opportunity to redeem herself by joining the Judicious Girls -- called colloquially the Judas Girls -- who maintain order in society by example and by their surgically implanted artificial eyes, which act as surveillance cameras.

To do so would require Jayne to have her hymen restored surgically and to give up an eye to receive the implanted camera. She refuses, accepting the consequence of hospitalization instead. At the hospital, she meets Ocean, a woman who sets Jayne on the track toward a career as an unlicenced "outlaw" teacher.

Unlicenced teachers hold classes in secret while holding down cover jobs. Their students are in lower-level occupational classes hoping to "test out" to better jobs and status. Jayne takes to this life wholeheartedly, although it means living on the edge, knowing that she could be discovered or even betrayed by a disgruntled student at any moment. Still, that knowledge does not stop her.

The picture Ore paints is not a pretty one, especially since one can see some of the seeds of Ore's future planted in conditions today. Certainly, an alarming number of children today are on medication, regardless of actual need, often at the behest of the schools. Right now, voluntary assisted euthanasia is a point of debate and controversy; in Jayne's world, it is government sanctioned. Spin doctors are integral parts of political campaigns today; it doesn't require a huge leap of imagination to visualize candidates who are computer constructs developed by publicists and programmers and controlled by political parties.

Yet in spite of the grim oppressiveness of the future society, Ore invests her story with a spark of hope. Jayne becomes certain of herself, a certainty which helps her through adversity. She is a character who inspires sympathy and admiration and who demonstrates a remarkable ability to be true to herself. Overall, the writing is compelling, and the book is difficult to put down.

For a thought-provoking social education, enroll your imagination in Rebecca Ore's Outlaw School.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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