The Darkest Path

320p. Scholastic. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545512237; ebk. $17.99. ISBN 9780545512251. LC 2013004367.
Gr 7 Up—Callum Roe, 15, and his younger brother, James, were whisked away from their parents in Ithaca, New York, six years ago, by followers of the Glorious Path. More than a religious sect, armies of Path believers have systematically taken over large portions of the United States. Citizens offered "the Choice" of joining are given jobs or trained as soldiers for the cause, and those who refuse often disappear without a trace. James is content with his Path life working as an officer's valet in Arizona, but Cal is considered rebellious and relegated to cleaning out dog kennels. Challenged when trying to save a stray dog named Bear from certain maltreatment, he kills the kennel boss and goes on the lam with Bear. Intending to journey back to New York, Cal heads north to evade capture and encounters a full-fledged war between the Path and the Feds, encountering roadblocks, air assaults, and soldiers at every turn. In Wyoming, Cal meets Natalie and other teens resisting the Path, and they are nearly killed in a skirmish. Nat's father is a casualty and, while they convalesce in a rich kid's hideaway, Cal sees Nat's transformation from a mere rebel to a martyr willing to die to avenge her father's death. Her plan results in a page-turning climax fraught with danger and emotion. The dystopian story is action-packed all the way.—Vicki Reutter, State University of New York at Cortland
This unceasingly grim look at a future taken over by a murderous religious cult requires a strong reader with a taste for true dystopias. Aside from the dark content (even little brothers and cute stray dogs aren't safe), Hirsch occasionally threads his dialogue with far too much exposition. Still, Cal, searching for any semblance of peace, is a deeply compelling protagonist.

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