To keep her children safe, she must put their lives at risk …
In suburban Australia, Mim and her two children live as quietly as they can. Around them, a near-future world is descending into chaos: government officials have taken absolute control, but not everybody wants to obey the rules.
When Mim’s husband Ben mysteriously disappears, Mim realises that she and her children are in great danger. Together, they must set off on the journey of a lifetime to find Ben. The government are trying to track them down, but Mim will do anything to keep her family safe – even if it means risking all their lives.
Can the world ever return to normality, and their family to what it was?
Every time I read a new dystopian novel I end up feeling a little disturbed about how close it is to the world we’re in now. Especially with the extreme weather events, potential for WW3 and the lingering pandemic all competing for our attention. Yet for some reason I’m drawn to them and when they’re done well they blow me away. There have been a few dystopian novels sitting high on my ‘Books of the Year’ list for the past two years running.
This was another novel set in the near future, where severe climate change events and continued terrorist attacks have made the government take drastic action. They now have a totalitarian government, run under the sinister title of the “Department”. Humans have been installed with the type of microchips anti-vaxxers are terrified by, allowing the government to keep tabs of every single citizen. All civil liberties and freedoms have been swept aside for the false promise of round the clock security provided by their privacy being invaded. Any dissent is dealt with quickly and without mercy, and there are purpose built compounds ready to house anyone who speaks out. Many go in, but nobody comes out again, a though that fills me with dread considering I’m writing this as Russia is dismantling any left-wing TV or radio station and announcing new laws to curb anyone even labelling their invasion of the Ukraine as a war instead of a ‘special military operation.’
So when officials from the Department tell Mim is tell Mim that her husband Ben is missing, she has to think quickly and tactically about the best plan of action for her and their children Essie and Sam. When officials arrive at her home to department to “help and advise’ she knows that she’s being trapped. Their advice warns her to stay home and they offer her some official looking forms to sign, but without giving her a chance to read them. Finally, they’re asked to surrender their Passports. This might be run of the mill stuff in a dictatorial regime, but Mim isn’t so easily controlled or fobbed off. Ben had been working in Indonesia, at a gold mine, so Mim is used to him being away from home, but he’s never been unexpectedly delayed or kept at his place of work without some notice. However, his return ‘in the next few days’ allows Mim time to think and delay telling anyone they know. The only other person who. knows the truth is Raquel – a foreign, independent journalist who had happened to ring because she had heard Ben had disappeared on the grapevine. Mim decides to run, knowing that officials will take them as security to lure Ben to them if they don’t already have him.
The story of this family on the run makes a great thriller, the pace is mostly superb and I was rooting for this family. The Department are relentless though, and Mim finds her way blocked, not just by the confiscated passports, but by frozen bank accounts and phone calls where her children are threatened if she doesn’t return home. I felt torn about Mum’s decision making. I applauded her for sticking to her principles and the belief that her children are in more danger living within this totalitarian regime than by running any. The other half of me was thinking she was crazy to risk their lives this way. An old friend of Mim’s takes the family on a treacherous sea voyage to find Ben, but I kept wondering whether she could trust her friend or if there are ulterior motives. I found some of Mim’s choices here difficult to understand and the story seemed to slow as they tried to reach Borneo. However, once there and towards the end the pace changed suddenly and my only criticism of the book would be that this huge change in pace made the final section feel like it passed too quick, giving me a bit of an anti-climactic feel. I thought the Big Brother elements of the novel were well established and the government felt truly terrifying in their scope and methods of punishment. I enjoyed the fact that it made me think, not just about the politics, but about being a mother in this oppressive situation and the decisions I would have made for my children. Was it worth putting their lives in immediate danger to avoid the potential future consequences of staying put? I found it involving, intelligent and eerily prescient, with the ability to start a few dystopian nightmares of my own.
Published in paperback by Harper Collins on 3rd March 2022.
Meet the Author
Kate Mildenhall is a writer and education project officer, who currently works at the State Library of Victoria. As a teacher, she has worked in schools, at RMIT University and has volunteered with Teachers Across Borders in Cambodia.
Skylarking was her debut novel. She discovered the story while on a camping trip and she wishes for more such fruitful adventures. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Hurstbridge, Victoria.