In Jeff Hirsch's "The Darkest Path," it's a dangerous time in our country's future. A crazy religious fanatic has seized control of a good part of the country. When he gets control of a town or state, he gives the "Choice" to the inhabitants. Either they commit to following the way of the "Path," or they are killed.
Callum and his younger brother, James, have survived six years with the Path. Callum works mucking out the dog kennels where stray dogs are kept starved and vicious so that they will be attack dogs. When Callum is sent out to bring in a stray, he befriends it and spends hours playing with it.
His cruel supervisor finds him playing, and Callum knows that he and the dog are in danger. He kills the supervisor. And now Callum and James have to escape. But James is not so sure that leaving is the best "path" for him.
The story is full of action and glimpses into this violent society. On the one hand, the Glorious Path are religious fanatics who keep women in submission under robes and veils. They murder indiscriminately. But in Federal territory, Callum finds things are not much better. Women are treated as equals, but it's the wealthy who live a life of careless ease -- with none of the problems, the hunger, the violence that plague the rest of their society.
Hirsch has done an incredible and and admirably non-partisan job here of painting an ugly but very effective picture of the problems that bedevil our northern industrial states on the one hand and our southern rural states on the other. The radical but logical extremes of those problems are presented in all their horrible manifestations,
In the North, the divide between rich and poor increases geometrically -- just as it does today. In the South, religious fundamentalists see only evil in those who disagree with them -- just as they do today. The inevitable result of these divisions is war -- just as it was in 1861. "The Darkest Path" is a case study of the evils of greed, stubbornness, bigotry, fundamentalism, and superstition. And everyone is to blame.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Scholastic Press, for review purposes.
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