Many of the most intellectually challenging and stimulating YA books that we have read in Bookclub have been books that also contain violence, swearing, sexual references and dark themes and often this has made it difficult to know where to place them in our school libraries. Pandora Jones: Admission by Barry Jonsberg, although providing some thought provoking discussion, will be easily recommended to readers, particularly Year 9 and up.
This is the first book in an anticipated trilogy and as such is really a ‘setting the scene’ novel. We felt that it suffers a little from this establishment phase – in a way, many questions are asked without too many answers given. Generally we accepted that this is often the way in the first in a series but some readers were frustrated that they had to wait until October before the next instalment.
This novel has a great opening sentence “It took 8 hours for Melbourne to die …” and right from the start the prologue sets the mood of panic and confusion with disjointed and fragmented sentences. The prologue is definitely not for those weak of stomach! Jonsberg draws the reader in very quickly to this version of the world and many of us felt that it was the best part of the novel. Little clues are dropped – such as the person who Pandora feels is following her – but as readers we don’t yet know their importance, if any to the novel.
For many of us the device of the school was reminiscent of novels such as The 5th Wave, Maze Runner, Reboot and The Disappeared. A collection of students, training together for some unknown greater good or evil, controlled by hardened and sometimes brutal trainers is a familiar trope in dystopic fiction. The idea of danger beyond the Wall is also a familiar concept.
Because of its structure a few readers felt that they did not quite follow what was going on – again – a lot is alluded to but the story is a complex puzzle that as readers we cannot solve as we do not yet have all the pieces and can only guess. These are the possibilities of what we discussed (with no real answers at this stage):
– the children have been gathered together because they all have ‘gifts’ – Pandora’s gift is that of intuition or prophecy – perhaps it all revolves around Pandora – is she the ‘chosen one’?
– it was pretty obvious that there is no plague or epidemic – the dreams that the children experience are the reality and their memories of their families dying (in most unpleasant ways) are planted by ? (an unknown government conspiracy – clearly involving Dr Macreadie, Dr Morgan and Professor Goldberg). As Pandora states,
Everyone Pandora Jones knew is dead – she remembers it vividly – but sometimes you cannot trust your own memories.
Pandora’s epiphany at the end reveals most of these as truths – the School is a lie – but WHY?
– perhaps the children had to have these unpleasant memories forced upon them as a way of activating or kick-starting their gifts – but why do they have the same memories?
– why are they allowed to have these dreams? – it seemed strange to us that these children during the day do not exhibit signs of trauma or grief but at night moan and cry in their sleep – are they being drugged in their food? – does this mean that whatever they were given to supplant their real memories is wearing off – is this what happened to Cara?
– who murdered Cara? – we felt that she had been disposed of – she clearly didn’t place herself on top of the mountain – had she worked out what was going on?
– we weren’t sure about Nate – is he a mole or a pawn? – we are not entirely convinced either way at this stage – we reflected Pandora’s own concerns. His ability to wander unchecked around the School and his knack of being right near Pandora just when she needs him might indicate that he had special privileges.
– the mission at the end just didn’t seem to make any sense as a tactical or training move – what was the motivation behind sending in the most inexperienced group? – why risk the current survivors safety to locate other survivors who may or may not be aggressive? – why set up such an elaborate “survivor” style ruse?
– the location – we discussed where the School was located – Nate notes it is an island – we weren’t so sure about that – there were a variety of opinions from outside Victoria or South Australia to up north. We tossed around the idea that it had to be within access to helicopters – children from the School come from overseas but then we also debated whether or not they had come on helicopters or was that another implanted memory.
So many questions – so few answers.
Generally we thought this would be popular in the younger grades of high school. At times character development suffers from the sheer pace of the novel but we are hoping to get know the characters better in future instalments. Most of us said we would read book 2 for some resolution but we hope we don’t have to wait for book 3 for complete understanding!