How far would you go to help your kids become smart, healthy, productive citizens? What about yourself? How far would you go to get rid of those habits, addictions, compulsions that you fight day in, day out? What if a man came along and told you that if you had enough money, you could move into a town where all of your “problems” went away? Your bad habits would no longer plague you. Your kids would not rebel, they would study hard, become the best they could be. And all it will cost you is your money. And your individuality. And your freedom of choice.
Candor explores these questions. The town of Candor was built by Oscar’s father after the drowning death of Oscar’s older brother. Candor is a perfect town: no crime, no danger, no individuality. It’s a saccharine sweet cookie-cutter environment, where everyone values the same things, eats the same things, wears the same things, and no one sets a toe out of line. This is accomplished by subliminal Messages that are hidden in the music continually played everywhere in Candor.
Oscar is just as smart as his father, and when he discovers the reasons for the bland same-ness that is Candor, he appropriates his father’s computer program and begins to add Messages to his own music – Messages designed to keep his mind free and to preserve his freedom of choice. Oscar uses his ability to create Messages to buid a lucrative side business helping the particularly rich kids escape from Candor. He’s got an offshore bank account waiting for the day when he makes his escape from Candor once and for all.
Then along comes Nia. Nia is different – more different than any girl Oscar has met in Candor. She’s artistic and edgy and completely independent – for now. But Oscar knows that his father’s Messages will change her. If he helps her escape, he loses the only girl he’s truly loved. If he keeps her there, he’ll have to feed her just enough of his own Messages to keep her from becoming a Stepford child, all while hiding the fact that she isn’t really conforming. Because if he’s found out, he’ll be taken to the Listening Room, where day after day of music and Messages will erase his mind, his individuality, and everything he is.
This is a deceptively short, simple book that carries a powerful message. As a parent, I can understand the desire to want your kids to grow up to be good people, to be smart, to fulfill their potential. But when we try to force them into the mold we have created for them, we take away their personhood, their ability to make their own decisions. We’ve all seen this happen – although not in the drastic way demonstrated in Candor. The son turns out for football even though he’d rather take a creative writing class. The daughter who would be happy being a nurse pressing on to medical school because her parents have carefully guided her down the path they have chosen for her. The son who knows he’s not cut out for college and who would rather build houses for a living enrolling in university anyway, because “that’s the only way to succeed.” We give our kids messages every day about who they are, who they can be, and what is expected of them. And, of course, we should encourage them to be their best – but without crossing the line into telling them what their best is.
As you can see, this book really made me think. That’s the best kind of book, in my opinion. And while I was thinking about these hard issues, I was getting a great story about this kid named Oscar, and his love for a girl named Nia.