January 25, 2020

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Murky mutations

Dystopian tale of plagued kids a disturbing mirror on ourselves

Jodi O photo</p><p>Like characters in the X-Men universe, author Craig DiLouie’s mutants are subjected to intense bigotry, and tensions between them and non-mutants are fierce.</p>

Jodi O photo

Like characters in the X-Men universe, author Craig DiLouie’s mutants are subjected to intense bigotry, and tensions between them and non-mutants are fierce.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/7/2018 (553 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A tale of angels and demons, of monsters and men, One of Us is a mesmerizing thriller that will stay with you long after you read the final page.

Acclaimed post-apocalyptic American writer Craig DiLouie delivers a parable both prescient and timeless with his most recent novel, set in a world not so different from ours.

It is 1984 — but not the way George Orwell imagined it. In DiLouie’s One of Us, the villain is not Big Brother, but a plague — a sexually transmitted disease that turns on a dormant gene, causing a mutation called "teratogenesis."

The germ impacts millions: babies are born disfigured and grotesque, then abandoned by horrified parents. Orphaned and unloved, these plague children — called creepers — are raised in homes and taught that they are God’s curse on humanity.

For 14-year-old Enoch Bryant, also known as Dog to his friends, the Home isn’t so bad. Growing up at the old plantation outside of Huntsville, Ga., he finds pleasure in working on a nearby cotton farm doing honest labour. But when a government official begins testing the plague kids for special abilities, Dog’s optimistic view of the world slowly transforms.

Dog’s friend Goof is taken to a "Special Facility" so the government can make use of his uncanny ability to finish sentences and fill in holes in spy communications. Dog realizes that time is running out for the plague kids — they must be found useful to the government, or they’ll be found useless to the world. And if the government can’t find a purpose for the creepers, the teratogenesis program housing, feeding and educating the plague kids will be terminated — along with the kids themselves. As puberty begins to trigger plague kids’ abilities, the more the "normals" fear the creepers. And, as Dog finds out, fear breeds hatred.

At the same time, George Hurst — otherwise known as Brain for his extraordinary intelligence — resents the system oppressing the plague kids and sees himself and his friends as gods to be worshipped. Longing to create a world where those infected with the germ are no longer viewed as beasts and slaves, Brain plants the seeds for revolution.

We’ve seen this story before and we know it can go one of two ways: the mutants are gods (see Victoria Aveyard’s blockbuster Red Queen series), or the mutants are undesirables (see Marvel Comics’ X-Men universe). DiLouie’s One of Us falls into the latter category, where anti-mutant bigotry is widespread and tensions between mutant and non-mutant are fierce. History proves that those who are beaten down enough times will eventually rise up, and it’s no surprise when Huntsville reaches a tipping point. When one of the plague kids is unjustly blamed for a crime he did not commit, the sparks of rebellion are lit and all hell breaks loose.

Replace "creeper" with Jew, black, Tutsi, gay or immigrant and you have the same story — and one much worse than fiction. One of Us is a mirror DiLouie dares us to look into, begging us to ask who the true monsters are.

A compelling cross between Stranger Things and To Kill a Mockingbird, One of Us is a chilling allegory for the horrifying consequences of intolerance — and a must-read.

Katrina Sklepowich is a lover of all things literary, and creator of the Literally, Katrina podcast and blog at LiterallyKatrina.com.


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