E.K. Frances

Kept in a simple structure at night to protect them from ravening wolves and other predators lurking in the dark, Alex, his mother, his friends and relatives, and dozens more, are set free each morning to wander and play in the surrounding fields, and even to wander through the fenced, adjacent forest; however, despite this apparent freedom, we quickly learn this flock of people we’ve joined are in fact the property of “the men”, who shepherd them, patrolling outside the compound’s fences, ostensibly to protect everyone from external danger. But things are even more bizarre. Sometimes the men take people to a separate building, similar to a barn and filled with cages, to perform basic medical care, or routine general health checks.

They also shoot people who are very ill, or happen to break a leg. What the hell?

No one in The Compound understands why they are where they are. Every so often trucks will arrive, and the adolescents are removed by the men. Speculation abounds, but it is all rumour. A single teenaged young man is chosen to stud all the adolescent young women, with no regard for how the women feel about this, or how he treats them. Sometimes little children are rounded up and taken away in trucks. At other times, trucks arrive filled with young children, who are left to join the herd.

The characters are believable enough, but not particularly likeable. They seem to combine feelings of impotence with a servile acceptance of their mistreatment. We come to identify with Alex because he, more than anyone in this open-air paddock, rejects all of this: their being kept behind fences; their manhandling by the men; and the mystery of where they came from, or where they’ll be going.

The language of The Compound is kept simple, likely because its intended audience is young adults. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but I might argue we do not give kids who are looking for books to read enough credit. Either way, Frances language is clear, concise, and easy to read.

A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, and kept behind fences. I wonder what Richard Adams might have to say…

The novel ends as the trucks arrive to take Alex and the other adolescents away. But I don’t want to spoil the twist at the end, where our assumptions about Alex and the other kids gets turned on its head. Is everything as it appears? That’s for me to know, and for you to decide for yourself.

My measure of a novel is a simple question: did I want to keep reading? For The Compound, my answer is “yes.” It is a nice, light, if disturbing, read. Get a copy. I think you’ll enjoy it.