The only world 15-year-old Mickey “Monkey” Gibbon has ever know is one devoid of normal family structure, a world where strict segregation is enforced and men are merely breeders and providers, women nurturers who raise families. Following the Oil Wars in the 2030s, when resources became so scarce that private ownership of cars was outlawed and human waste began to be used in sustainable energy production, women realised the need to bring rampant male aggression under control. A society was formed where men could be providers, certainly breeders but they could only ever work for women and rarely occupied positions of authority.
Such is the world that best-selling author Echo Freer has created in her dystopian novel Toxic Treacle. It is a world in crisis though as gangs of young adolescent boys run riot through the neighbourhood, clearly immune to the charms of loving, nurturing and acceptance advocated by the ruling classes. Don't be mistaken though, this is an authoritarian regime where every move is monitored and filmed on CCTV and those who are caught crossing the line are sent off to the Farm (a reeducation centre) or worse.
There is trouble brewing in this dystopia though, with people disappearing daily but Monkey is oblivious to all of this until his best friend Tragic disappears, leaving behind just one mysterious clue.
Toxic Treacle is an exciting, fast paced novel that will draw young readers in. The author has created an intriguing and believable inner-city landscape and the gangs, names, tags and lingo were spot on.
In addition, Echo Freer grasps teenage emotions and maturity in ways that few authors do lately. The friendship between Monkey and Tragic was well written and Tragic's need to connect with Monkey by leaving behind breadcrumbs was absolutely plausible. Likewise, the growing feelings between Angel and Monkey, coloured by their different levels of maturity, was really well done.
Unfortunately, the fantastic world building and grasp of teenage emotions and relationships was let down somewhat on two levels. Firstly, most of the adults appeared to be two-dimensional and their motives and personalities were not well explored at all. For example, I didn't really get motivations of Monkey's father, Eric Randall and the inconsistency when he switched from not really acknowledging his son to suddenly supporting him.
The second weakness which I thought really let the story down is that thoughts and ideas were attributed to Monkey that he could never have arrived at with no exposure to traditional family values or alternative structures of society or government. If we accept that most behaviour is learned, it seems unlikely that a child growing up in a deeply totalitarian society, raised on propaganda alone, would become a champion for traditional family values and lead a society to revolt.
Ultimately, I found the plot improbable and convenient which is a real pity as a mentor or learning relationship could easily have found a place in this book and in the world that Freer created, making it more suitable for school reading lists. Nevertheless, I would recommend this book for readers aged ten to twelve as they will no doubt find it quite exciting, but older readers in the young adult market may find the book too short and simplistic.
I give Toxic Treacle three out of five stars.