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Benjamin and the Paradise Project Paperback – September 15, 2009
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The Amazon Book Review
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About the Author
Kevin is an educator and writer whose love of books was born when his sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Aida Stroud, read to the class for the last half-hour of every school day and then brought her students to the library and got them each a library card. Pretty soon, Kevin was carrying home and reading stacks of novels. Kevin has a M.A. in English Literature and has written novels, screenplays, TV pilots, and teacher editions of textbooks.
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I will start out by saying that I really enjoyed this story. As a near-middle-ager, I am not the intended audience (it is written for middle-schoolers), but like any good children's story, an adult is not likely to find it tiresome. The "feel" of the story reminded me of "The Giver" by Lowry and "Brave New World" by Huxley (and- somewhat less so- Orwell's "1984"), what with the goal of paradisiacal living and the adored (and strictly regulated) united government. However, the plot felt less "heavy" and less threatening overall, with more room for individuality and human experience. The only character whose development we are really able to observe is that of the protagonist Ben; the others are less-developed and would run the risk of being called "shallow" if this were an entirely self-contained story and not the intended first book of a series. Fortunately it is not, and by the end of the story, the reader knows that there is much more than meets the eye for everyone involved.
Although younger grades (depending on the reading level of the individual) should be able to easily understand the storyline, there is a rather strong presence of the threat of bullying which a parent might wish to be aware of before letting a younger child read it. There are other themes that probably make it best geared towards the middle-school crowd, but as the plot is laid out in such a way that things are gradually introduced, I won't mention them so as to not give anything away. There are certain assumptions that a reader would generally start out with, and it was enjoyable to find that some of my own assumptions were erroneous.
This book is what good science-fiction for this age bracket ought to be. I don't often read sci-fi, since I find that the genre tends to create elaborate technological systems and terminology to the point of tedium. I will admit to an internal "groan" when I first started reading because there is some "futuristic" language, but it is only what is strictly necessary for the storyline, and does not go overboard at all. Despite my prejudice, I found that it did not distract me from the story.
All in all I would say it's a fun read, and would be a good way to engage reluctant readers (particularly boys, I'd wager). The worst part of this book is that a sequel has not yet been written. 4 1/2 stars.
Benjamin is growing up in a place that seems much like the earth of Orwell's 1984: single world language, totally state-controlled media, completely militarized society that seems engaged in perpetual war, students brainwashed into adoration of a charismatic leader from a young age, thought police, etc. There are also vulnerable minority groups which are dehumanized and can be exploited as objects of use. Benjamin senses that there is something amiss in this "perfect" world, and that his family is somehow different, but he's unsure what action he should take. Conflicts at school intensify, and he finds himself increasingly marginalized. Then, just as we think things will improve, we discover more about the "paradise project" --- and learn that the stakes could not be higher for Benjamin and his family. I like these characters very much, and found myself rooting for them and thinking about them long after I'd put the novel down.
The story has some echoes of "Ender's Game," without feeling at all like a knock-off. I mention it because those who enjoy Orson Scott Card will also enjoy this book.
"Benjamin" is the first of a series, and ends not so much with "resolution" but by answering many questions raised in the story and laying out the massive scope of the conflicts to come. I found myself very much wanting to pick up the next book in the series, and hope Mr. Aldrich is able to publish it soon.
The genre is conventional - totalitarian dystopia eventually revealing itself as other-planet sci-fi - but the story within the genre is unique, populated by pre-teen kids responding to propaganda, regimentation, environmental change, and racism.
The narrative style is loose and breathlessly spontaneous, like some college kid telling his dorm buddies about the summer he'd just spent herding yaks in Mongolia. The narrator is not the usual ponderous Third Person but somebody who's actually been there and can hardly believe his good fortune. It's a terrific page-turner, with chapters always ending in a hook that makes you reluctant to put it down. The characters come alive on the page, the dialogue is natural and convincing, and the action scenes, of which there are many, are hair-raising.
Underlying the book is the issue of racism, made the more clear by the inversion of the ususal, with Blacks as the master race and Whites enslaved. Where else do we see this in any literature?
Standing alone as a novel, it is captivating and challenging, but the book also comes with a companion teacher's guide providing probing questions and exercises in vocabulary and usage.
I recommend this book heartily, both for the classroom and for individual reading.
Most recent customer reviews
Ben's world could almost be ours in America -- for instance, the school system -- but in other ways there...Read more