September 12, 2017

30340872

The Innocence Treatment

Ari Goelman

Pub. 2017

304 pgs.

Genre: Science Fiction, Multigenre

Summary / Review / TLDR / Recommended For / Issues / Themes / Grade


Summary

Lauren Fielding was born innocent. Babies tend to be, but they also grow out of it. Lauren, however, does not. She’s actually considered “mentally disabled” because she is unable to discern between lies and the truth. Fiction confuses her, and one of the rules her family has drilled into her since birth is “do not accept hugs from strangers”—it’s too easy for people to take advantage of her.

So when she is offered the chance at an experimental surgery that could free her from her condition, she jumps at it. Little does she suspect that her sudden “loss” of innocence will leave her jaded, cynical, and increasingly paranoid. Added to the mix is the new boy, Sasha, who seems to have taken a special interest in her, and the growing concerns of her older sister, Evelyn. With everything changing so rapidly, Lauren begins to feel that her time is running out. Is the threat real?

Or is it all in her head?

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Review

“The hardest lies to catch are the ones you want to believe” (206).

And that, my friends, is the most important line of The Innocence Treatment. You’re welcome.

Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating a bit. The entire book is important. No, really! It’s important…and funny and tragic and amazing, and I wish I could go back in time so I could read it all over again for the first time. It’s just that good.

I’m a sucker for unreliable narrators, and throughout the book I was trying to decide who to trust: Lauren, whose journal entries make up the bulk of the text; Brechel, the psychologist analyzing Lauren in the transcripts; Corbin, in the few times she shows up; Evelyn, with her teenage idealism and loathing for the Department; or Sasha, the spy paid to protect Lauren. Most of the story is told from Lauren’s point of view, so it’s hard to believe anyone but her is telling the truth, but in the transcripts we see a character who is as coldly calculating as Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock Holmes (a comparison Lauren makes herself, I imagine with a wry grin). Evelyn admits in her notes that even she doesn’t know the exact truth about any of this, though she is naturally inclined to believe Lauren’s account than anyone else’s. Because of this uncertainty, the book kept me on my toes and had me compulsively turning pages long after I should have been in bed. The book called me all day while I was at work, whispering at me to read just one more paragraph before class started…

Lauren’s transformation from dewy-eyed naïveté to stone-cold killing machine is fascinating, and Goelman does an excellent job of showing the reader how gradual the process was. Despite warning from Evelyn and hints from Brechel’s transcripts at the beginning of the book, the casual violence is sometimes startling. I didn’t want to believe Lauren was capable of the actions she sometimes took, though she kept a sense of ethics about it; she only ever acted in self-defense, even with the nurse, Schafer.

Sasha was equally interesting as a character, particularly since I could never quite be sure whose side he was on. I was inclined to believe he was something of a true neutral in Gygax’s alignment chart, in that he could only be trusted to be on the lookout for himself. Whether he did good things or evil things, it was because those actions were in his best self-interest. To be honest, I’m glad we never see his point of view. It kept the mystery alive.

The other characters aren’t as fully-fleshed out—I never feel like I really know Evelyn, despite her comments, the parents are essentially absent (which Evelyn surmises was to protect them from the Department’s wrath), and the friends are pretty much cardboard cutouts who disappear two-thirds of the way through the book. The only way they change is how Lauren sees them, and that’s because she starts to recognize their false cheer and good-hearted, well-intentioned lies. There was one character, Peter, who came up briefly and then suddenly vanished. Because he wasn’t really important to Lauren’s story, he didn’t end up being important to The Innocence Treatment as a whole. The only reason I can think of for Goelman’s inclusion of him was to show that no one, not even teenagers, are safe from the Department.

The structure of the book was really cool. As I alluded to earlier, it’s a combination of journal entries written by Lauren, transcripts of her meetings with Brechel, and passages written by the book’s “editor,” Evelyn. Evelyn is also responsible for the footnotes scattered throughout, which give more insight into why Lauren might have phrased something a certain way or some of the background to particular “historical” events. These formats lend themselves to an engaging read.

Although, if there ever comes a time when “no actual kid” wants to watch Star Wars, I’m not sure I want to live in it.

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TLDR

Yes. Put this book on your shelf. Let it be devoured by middle- and high-school students. Show them that stories can be told in creative ways in formats they might otherwise consider “boring.” Do ittttttttttt.

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Recommended for…

  • Anyone who loves mysteries
  • Anyone who loves “future histories”
  • Basically everyone who wants to read something awesome and thrilling

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Issues

  • Alcohol Use: some characters drink underage
  • Bullying: some minor bullying
  • Death: references to the death of characters
  • Deceit: characters trick one another
  • Drug Use: references to drug use (serum that makes people mindless, happy workers)
  • Lying: characters lie to one another
  • Other Illegal Activity: unauthorized experimentation; illegal detaining of suspects
  • Sex: non-explicit references to sexual activity
  • Sexual Abuse: references to groping and unwanted sexual contact (non-intercourse)
  • Suicide: references to a potential suicide
  • Swearing: characters swear (including one instance of “fuck”)
  • Theft: characters steal things
  • Violence: characters attack one another with intent to harm
  • War: references to military combat and situations
  • Weapon Use: characters threaten with guns; threaten with and use tasers to subdue others

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Themes

  • Determination
  • Disability
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Growing Up
  • Honesty
  • Identity
  • Justice
  • Mental Health
  • Responsibility
  • Right vs. Wrong
  • Romantic Love
  • Sports
  • Survival

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Grade

Main Character 2
Subcast 1
Setting Development 2
Exploration of Conflict 2
Satisfying Resolution 2
Consideration of Themes 2
Didactic Tone 2
Suspension of Disbelief 2
Imagery and Description 2
Compelling Storytelling 2
Author’s Style 2
Rhythm and Pace of Book 2
Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 2
Predictability 2
Reader Enjoyment 2
Total 29/30
97%

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