White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock
Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781406378177
(Age: 14+) Recommended. This book is brilliant, gripping and horrifying - all at once! Right from the start we are gripped by the anxiety of the narrator, and this does not let up at all. We are positioned to wonder whom we can trust? Told episodically, this narrative has chapters named for the thoughts and action that occur. Plunging us into the lives of some members of one family, who are clearly very clever people, albeit distracted and secretive, Pollock takes us on a journey of fear, confusion, and a sense that terrible and catastrophic events may happen at any time and they do.
Shocking, puzzling, and heartachingly sad, this story of a family who are brilliant people, a family that does not seem like one, however. This family of very, very intelligent people who can explore, explain and expose what is happening to them and the world around them, but fear the consequences, appear to be in trouble.
Two adolescents, a boy and a girl, we realize very quickly, possess outstanding abilities to rationalize, explore, explain and comprehend the situation in which they find themselves, a situation that portends absolute disaster, that challenges them to trust no-one, not their mother nor their sibling. His extraordinary intellect enables seventeen-year old Peter Blankman to grasp the threat that he faces, and the threat is his life. As the novel focuses mostly on the way in which his use of mathematical logic and computer-like reasoning enables him to slowly piece together the events that have occurred both in the past and in the present, which is the narrative structure of interwoven chapters, except for the opening chapter, named ENCRYPT, with these letters encrypted to read YICMXKQ. Already we are alerted to the model of thought that imbues this novel with cleverness, fear, betrayal, murder and a seeming lack of love and loyalty within one family.
Ultimately, this is a story of the failure of a family to be what families should be, that is, to protect, nurture and guide the children to live good lives, not selfish lives, but lives that enable them to be honourable, to help others, to be part of a social web that protects and nurtures children. The children in this story are sacrificed for the state, or at least that appears to be so.
The narrative delivers a hard and fear-filled world for one fearful child, albeit a brilliant one, whose actions reflect his isolation when things go amiss and his family are not there. He and his twin sister appear to have been abandoned, the adults in their lives missing, and they themselves endangered. After a series of murders, this family is catapaulted into terror. Using their brilliant minds to decode the events and the messages they perceive, the twins work to decode the events so that they can survive.
This powerful new novel will disturb, intrigue, fascinate and unsettle the reader. Tom Pollock's work on the perils of espionage, and the threat of death for anyone who reveals what is happening, is situated in the centre of a modern world where fear of exposure and death looms for those who work in government, and correspondingly threatens the lives of their children.