I don’t generally do book reviews on this site. That’s largely because I have been so disenchanted, bordering on disgusted, with the current state of the publishing/movie industry, and have been unable to find anything to which I could give an even marginally positive review. But I have found an exception, though it’s not what you might expect. It’s not fiction, although it is eminently suitable for children and teens, much more so than the dystopian stuff they read now.
Those books are given a weak sheen of redeeming social value with the specious argument that, by reading stories about young girls surviving bloody horror and rising up against a ludicrously contrived dictatorship, the readers will somehow be motivated to stand up to the mythical “one percent,” the tiny minority of society who supposedly control all the wealth while the rest of “us” struggle on in lives of quiet desperation. Slightly more plausibly, it’s sugested that today’s teens live in a scary, violent world and these books help them to “deal with it.” In fact that’s all just an excuse for the real purpose of these books: to satisfy people’s bloodlust. If you truly want kids to learn about the reality of income disparity, as well as how dark the world really is beyond the safety of the movie theater, then you would do well to take a look at James Mollison’s Where Children Sleep, although you might not like what you come away with.
This photo essay, compiled over a period of several years, has a very simple format. Mollison pairs stark photographs of children from around the world with photographs of the places where they sleep. Exactly what it says on the lable. There is accompanying text that tells us a bit about each child’s situation, and that’s about it. The result is profound. We see a young boy who scavenges on the street and sleeps wherever he can; a young girl who has been working in a quarry since she was three years old; a young boy who sleeps with his entire family on a filthy mattress in a field; a young girl who sleeps literally on a garbage dump; a young boy, former child soldier, who sleeps in a concrete bunker; a young girl who lives in a small house heated only by a single wood stove.
That last one is of note, because that girl lives in the United States. But there are other children from the industrialized world as well, and they are shown to enjoy a very comfortable, even luxurious, existence. Many of the other children dream of going to school, knowing they probably never will, that their lives will very likely never get better. This is how things are in much of the world. Your teens are shelling out big bucks to see the latest high profile killing-show at the local Cineplex so they can then go home and talk about it over social media via their cell phones. They live vicariously through these violent adventures, safe in the knowledge that it will never, ever happen to them. If only these other kids were so lucky. They live every day with real hardship, real horror. And nobody’s recommending they “deal with it” by reading crap like Divergent or Panic.
I recommend this book as a real eye-opener. Alas, reading a book doesn’t actually solve problems, and most people will cluck their tongues and then go on with their comfortable lives. And I admit there are no easy fixes; in the real world there rarely are. But perhaps a small good can come, if teens get the message being sent by this book. Dytopian thrillers allegedly tell teens to fight back against the “one percent.” But this book sends a much more truthful message to them: “Compared to most of the world, you are the one percent.”