Book review

Fearless by Tim Lott (2007)

Have you ever been punished for something that you didn't do? And did you speak out against the unfairness? Did you have to be brave to do so?

That's how it is for Little Fearless in this uneasy fairy story for our time.

Little Fearless is taken from her home after dark and confined in the City Community Faith School for Retraining, Opportunity and Hope. There, 1000 girls are issued with a letter and a number instead of the name they were born with, and they are made to work long hours in the city laundry. They never hear from their families again, but Little Fearless cannot accept this injustice:

When the Controller had asked at the end of the Gathering if there were any questions, Little Fearless had had the nerve to ask one - two, in fact. She had asked the Controller why they had to work so hard when they were only children, and why they were locked up when most of them had done nothing wrong. The Controller had been furious, and had left without answering.

Little Fearless is sure that if only the girls can get word to their parents about how they are being treated, their parents will come and rescue them. So she finds a way to escape from the institute just for long enough to find an adult to hear her plea.

It's a dismal story of betrayal of the young by the old, for even when Little Fearless succeeds in persuading an adult to listen to her tale, no one will take action to help.

And it's a distressing story about the stripping away of individuality and identity until the children are fit for nothing except mindless work in the world of adults. Every time the girls are punished for the misdemeanour of Little Fearless, they are deprived of another little piece of personality, until they are all just numbers, with shaved heads and dressed in grey, without names and without families...without any past at all that they can remember.

You might find the plot a little formulaic but the tension of the drama will keep you reading right to the excruciating end. No happy endings here, only recognition of sacrifice and a will to do better in the future.

Compelling, powerful, haunting reading.

What can I read next?

Strong, strong stuff. Reminds me very clearly of this horror story by Lynne Reid Banks:

If you are interested in ideas of identity and freedom you might like to look at this story by David Thorpe:

Or this classic by Anne Holm:

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