Why are adults so gullible in books meant for children and adolescents? Is it because the plot would never develop if these adults started asking tough questions in the beginning of the story?
Luke, a high school student in Australia, moves to a newly-built corporate town called Phoenix along with his mother, who has been offered a job by Shackleton Co-operative (the same company that established Phoenix). His parents have just divorced.
Things sound normal so far until they arrive at Phoenix airport and they’re told that all the phone lines are out of order. Next, they’re informed that cars aren’t allowed in Phoenix and they have to use bikes for transport. At this point, Luke’s mother should have walked out of this bizarre place but she relents (although she is described as having an internal struggle about whether to stay or leave).
In Phoenix, all the houses look the same, which may not be strange in itself. But when you hear that all the furniture and the way it is arranged inside the house is also the same, one begins to wonder. Apparently, Shackleton Co-operative refused to let Luke and his mother bring their own furniture and insisted on buying them new ones.
Luke finds a set of clothes and school supplies neatly laid out in a walk-in closet. He’s given a new laptop on the first day of school. But he can’t access the Internet; only the Phoenix intranet is available. Oh, and the phone lines have been out of order for a month so he hasn’t been able to contact his father since he arrived. Is it feeling unreal yet?
There’s an Officer Calvin, described as a “stony-faced guy” who patrols the town along with other armed security guards. Shouldn’t the people feel like they’ve entered some sort of facility?
Luke is introduced to Peter, another student who has been in Phoenix for the last six months. He introduces him to Jordan, who came to Phoenix just before Luke did. Mysteriously, Luke’s locker at school is the last one, as if the authorities knew that nobody would come to Phoenix after him.
At this point, Luke learns that there are only 100 days more to the end of the world through a complicated sequence of events involving two separate flash drives and coded messages. This information cements the friendship of Luke, Peter, and Jordan. The trio figure out that the message is from Crazy Bill, a homeless (?!) man in Phoenix and follow the clues provided by him to find evidence that he’s telling the truth.
Surprisingly, Crazy Bill attacks Luke and beats him to a pulp. There’s no explanation why. Crazy Bill is revealed to have superhuman strength when he beats up Officer Calvin and other guards in a separate incident.
There’s a side angle of how Peter has been suddenly sidelined by three other students in his class, who have a secret of their own. This mystery has been left dangling in this book and is presumably dealt with in detail in the subsequent books. Yes, this book is part I of a three-part series.
Luke, Jordan, and Peter discover that Phoenix is situated in the middle of the Australian bush and is surrounded by a thick wall that is intended to keep people from going out. They also learn that Phoenix mall is supplied by a huge warehouse that stocks every conceivable product. The place also grows its own food through soil-less farming.
Perhaps in a world of ultra-trusting adults, the story is tenable. I did not find the plot gripping enough to make me want to read the next two books in the series. They probably solve the mysteries of Crazy Bill, Shackleton Co-operative, and how the end of the world is averted.