Inspection by Josh Malerman
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Date: Mar 19, 2019
Reviewed by: Dez Nemec
Fiction Addict Scorecard: A
The real world is a constant waste of potential.
J lives along with the other Alphabet Boys in a tower in the woods. He stays hidden away from the world by the Parenthood, including D.A.D. and the Inspectors. The boys are not being raised like regular kids. Every morning for as long as they can remember, they strip down and are inspected to ensure they are “clean” of diseases. The boys are then fed breakfast and attend classes far advanced for their ages. As far as the boys know, the Turret in which they live and the surrounding Yard and Orchard are the entire world. They are not even aware the opposite sex even exists, having been taught there are only boys and men. But things are changing. The boys are 12 now, and approaching the “Delicate Years,” as they have been labeled. D.A.D. is sure everything will be fine. After all, they are raising the best scientists, mathematicians, and thinkers in the world. They have been taught never to keep secrets or question the Parenthood. And if they do, then they will simply be characterized as spoiled rotten and sent to the Corner…
J keeps thinking he sees a figure crouched in the woods, but he doesn’t want to tell anyone about it. He believes the Inspectors and D.A.D. will think he’s crazy. But he can’t help the feeling that he’s being watched by the figure. And when D.A.D. tells J one thing during Inspection but says another in a speech to the boys and the entire staff, he begins to wonder if D.A.D. hadn’t lied to him.
Through the forest, a group of girls are being similarly reared. K, an amazingly talented young artist, has been drawing a distinct tree in the woods. She doesn’t recall when or how she saw it, yet she draws it differently than the other trees. However, K doesn’t like how interested in the tree M.O.M. and the Inspectors are. K decides to sneak out and go for a walk in the woods toward the mysterious, leafless tree and discover it for herself.
I must confess – I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Malerman. He takes a rather ordinary concept – the apocalypse, a haunted house, a Wild West story – and throws it in the blender, mixing it up until something weird shakes loose. So while I didn’t know what to expect, I knew it would be different and original. At its base, Inspection is merely a coming-of-age story. Only the kids are geniuses, hidden in the forest, unaware of the opposite sex, and believing the whole world was the small part in which they live. Personally, I preferred K’s part to J’s, but that might just be me saying, “Well yeah, of course girls mature faster and are smarter than boys. Duh.” And that ending… I did not see that coming. The ending was well worth the price of admission. I was blown away.