Martin has lived his entire life in the protected Suburb, just as people have for hundreds of years. They have to: every place outside is incredibly dangerous, where the very air is poisonous. Only in the Suburbs, domed communities completely cut off from the outside, can humankind continue to live and survive. Martin doesn’t question the status quo, like the popular game shows everyone watches, or the commercials he sings at school. His little sister Cassie, on the other hand, questions everything. Cassie is among the latest brand of baby. Marketed as “Wonder Babies”, they are genetically engineered to be smarter and more perfect than previous generations, such as Martin’s own model 14.
But Wonder Babies are a little too smart. It’s disconcerting to hear a toddler discussing physics, or questioning the foundations of society. That’s why they’re doing a product recall: All Wonder Babies have to be shipped back to a “special school.” Martin doesn’t believe it, he’s convinced his little sister is in trouble. He can only see one option: to follow her into the Outside. But how?
Author Clare Dunkle keeps the tension high, as Martin struggles to escape the Suburb, while at the same time struggling to come to terms with the information he discovers along the way. Anyone familiar with science fiction tropes will realize one of the major plot points almost immediately, but that does not make the discovery any less startling for Martin himself. The characterization here is not as keenly realized as in some of Dunkle’s previous works. Martin is loyal to a fault, but the implication that most of his personality is coded into his genes is a bit off-putting. His computer dog, Chip, too often acts as a deus ex machina, particularly since no one ever really questions why the “dog” his parents bought him turned out to have a lot of illegal modifications. However, these drawbacks do not stop the book from being highly readable or enjoyable. Boys in particular will enjoy discovering the world along with Martin.