Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Off the Road by Nina Bawden

Tom sees a door ajar and steps through it.

Off the Road was published in 1998, but deals with some of the same issues that are popular in fiction right now. When a person becomes of certain age, they are locked away to be cared for apart from others.

Tom pushed out of his known world and into one that he has been told his whole life is scary and dangerous. In the outside world, Tom sees his grandfather sliding away, trying to escape, going mad. Tom's grandfather is trying to go off the road into a world filled with barbarians and dangerous trees that will eat children in a single bite. In desperation, Tom follows after his grandfather in hopes of saving him from the mistake of venturing into the wild.

Tom is convinced that his grandfather's brain has gone soft, for that is what happens to people when they age, he has been told. It is clear to Tom that his grandfather has wandered off in a fit of senility and gotten lost.

But as Tom and his grandfather stray further and further from the road, the reader begins to understand more and more about the world Tom left. Where words like brother and sister are rude and unspeakable. In Tom's world, children are the most important and most respected people. In the same way that we understand where Tom comes from, Tom is also faced with the lies his world had taught him. Tom understands why his grandfather has chosen to escape.

The thing I love about this book is that it continues to build the world through the story. It doesn't just set the world up in the beginning and abandon it for pure adventure. Every step of Tom's journey helps you understood where he had come from, because the story doesn't start in Tom's world, it starts with Tom leaving his world.

When I read a dystopia or science fiction, I want it to be more than an adventure story nestled in a futuristic or government controlled world. I want the story and adventure to live and breathe inside the world, and Off the Road does just that. The book continues to deepen an understanding of Tom's world throughout the whole story. The reader stays connected to the inside world by the emerging details. The story unfolds in an interesting way, even if the dystopian elements fall together in a rather standard pattern. Tom is faced with a type of survival I have not seen in previous worlds. There were moments when the story was slow, but overall it was a compelling and rewarding read.


  1. Sounds like an interesting read. I think I may have to look into this one.

  2. This sounds amazing. I can't believe I've never heard of it, and I'm adding it to my wishlist as we speak.