One of Us – Craig DiLouie

They’ve called him a monster from the day he was born.

Abandoned by his family, Enoch Bryant now lives in a rundown orphanage with other teenagers just like him. He loves his friends, even if the teachers are terrified of them. They’re members of the rising plague generation. Each bearing their own extreme genetic mutation.

The people in the nearby town hate Enoch, but he doesn’t know why. He’s never harmed anyone. Works hard and doesn’t make trouble. He believes one day he’ll be a respected man.

But hatred dies hard. The tension between Enoch’s world and those of the “normal” townspeople is ready to burst. And when a body is found, it may be the spark that ignites a horrifying revolution.

Oh, my. I mean…

What a complete fucking gut-punch this book turned out to be. Oof…my feelings..

For one reason or another, I just missed out on Craig DiLouie’s One of Us when it was first released in hardcover. But then Orbit’s cover reveal for his upcoming Our War grabbed ahold of my imagination in a very big way. Needless to say, I was really excited to get the opportunity to review the paperback edition of One of Us (with gorgeous new artwork!)

The book takes place in an alternate American south, in the early 1980’s. There’s been large numbers of kids born into what’s called the plague generation. These are kids born with significant genetic mutations, and in many cases, special abilities as well. They are segregated from the “normal” kids, put in Homes, which operate under the pretense of being schools, but actually function quite a bit more like work release prisons. They are mercilessly beaten & ridiculed, overworked, and sometimes even killed during punishments.

The plague kids give each other nicknames, based either on their appearance or some aspect of their personality. There’s Goof, a boy with an upside down face, who loves making people laugh. Brain, supernaturally intelligent, can literally remember his own birth. And Dog. So named because…well, he looks like a dog.

Dog is quite simply one of the most pure-hearted characters I’ve ever met. He is thoughtful & soulful, and way too fucking good to be living in such awful times. The fear & ignorance & prejudice that these kids live with on a daily basis is abhorrent. Inhuman.

Which is how many people view these kids. As monsters. Abominations. Evil.

We do get to see a somewhat different side of things, through the eyes of a group of friends from the local high school. Jake & Amy & Sally & Michelle & Troy…not only are these kids having their own experiences growing up, they’ve also begun to be very curious about the plague kids in the Home in their town. Some are more open than others.

After a chance encounter in the woods one night, Dog & his friends find themselves at a major crossroads, now inexorably linked to the “normal kids”

There’s not much more I want to say about the plot of this book. One of Us is the kind of book that makes you need to close it after finishing a chapter and say “fuck” and just catch your breath for a moment. There’s so much going on in this book, and so much of it explores the deep, dark, and ugly sides of humanity. This book fucking broke me, again & again & again.

And I think it’s an absolute masterpiece.

The writing is incredibly lean. There’s nothing wasted here. These characters that DiLouie has created are all incredibly complex. Good and bad, right and wrong…it’s all very pliant in this novel.

One of Us is a seriously powerful examination of extreme prejudice, and the fallout that results. This is not an easy book to read. There are some deeply upsetting moments here. This book is haunting & gorgeous & heartbreaking & infuriating…it’s a lot to take in, but it’s so worth it. One of the most impactful & emotional books I’ve ever read.

Endless thanks to Orbit Books for this one! The paperback edition of One of Us releases on February 26th!!

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