Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw
David Fickling Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781788450010. 422p.
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Themes: Dystopian fiction, Survival, Dogs. Opening with a daring escape from a horrible school for children, Outwalkers finds Jake, a 12 year old boy, on the run from the authorities. Set in a dystopian England, where everyone is microchipped and there is a threat of catching a killer virus, Jake sets out to find his dog Jet and a home. Then he encounters the Outwalkers, a gang of young people who are also on the run from the government system, and together they go on a massive adventure, travelling from one end of England to another in their quest to get to Scotland and freedom.
This was a gripping read with a setting in a future England that to an adult felt eerily real and plausible as the government microchipped their citizens and watched them non-stop, controlling their actions and imprisoning children in so called Academies that were like detention centres.
Jake is the central character in the story and his love for his dog Jet is a highlight of the story and adds a touch of poignancy as he tries his best to struggle through the nightmare of his world and work out who to trust. The portrayal of Swift carefully carrying her sick sister Cass, and the picture of the motherly Martha, the strong Poacher, twitchy Davie and young cook Ollie, all make this gang come alive and the reader is invested in the survival of all of them. Each contributes a special skill to help the gang move from safe house to safe house and forage enough food to eat.
Children will read it as a gripping adventure and survival story with its motley crew of young people vividly drawn. Readers will also identify with the loyalty and determination that the gang needs to keep going on their dangerous quest for freedom.
A small window for a possible sequel at the end left me hoping for another novel from Shaw.