Concentr8 – William Sutcliffe

This book was sent to me by Bloomsbury India in exchange of a fair and honest review

A story set in a future London, with five young teenagers as the central characters. Concentr8 is a drug that was originally meant for children with ADD but with time even the the slightest act of rebelliousness or naughtiness is characterized as deviant behaviour and most children are on the drug on a permanent basis. The almost gang of five friends have been on the drug since they were kids and one day during a riot kidnap a government official for no apparent reason.

The story is told through the eyes of almost all the major players in the game with a chapter dedicated to each. I found the book deeply disturbing. For one thing, the idea that entire populations of school going children can be diagnosed with a psychiatric condition simply on the basis of teacher’s recommendations and then put on a drug regimen indefinitely as a means of controlling them makes the hair on my neck quiver to attention. Is it possible to become so ambivalent as a society to things that make little or no sense? But that is a silly question surely, since we have seen it happen over and over in history that society has taken a stand on matters that only with the wisdom granted by time and distance can we today see as absurd, atrocious and even cruel.

For me the best part of the book was the character development of each of the five friends who find themselves in a situation that seems to have escalated beyond their control. Blaze is the leader of this motley group and is shrewd enough and smart enough to hold them under his thumb with intimidation and scare tactics. He is easy enough to understand as the stereotypical leader who is part bully, part friend. Its how the rest of his entourage reacts to the situation and to his control that is absolutely fascinating. Troy seems to be the only one who is not really scared of him but is determined/resigned to stick by him because of a possibly misplaced sense of loyalty.

It is a moving enough story in a grubby and very in-your-face kind of way. One feels empathy for these kids who seem to be completely lost to all sense of right and wrong and yet it is possible to be repulsed by their seeming insensitivity. The author has done a good job of making his story run fast enough for a young reader and try and bring in some moral lessons into the telling along with it.

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