Flashback Fridays: No one can blame you for walking away . . .

You’re an eleven year old who has lived her whole life in an underground city where reading is enough to get you in a whole heap of trouble and Outside is just a myth told to babies.  Until you meet a strange boy named Axel who insists he’s not from the city but from Outside.  He’s desperate to get out of the underground and back home to his family.  Deciding to help him will change your life forever . . .

Do you remember: 

This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover (Turtleback Books, c1980)

H.M. Hoover, aka Helen Mary Hoover was one of my highlights for science fiction books as a kid.  She wrote futuristic science fiction stories for middle grade  and young adult readers, and helped to first pull me into complex and complicated futures  where not all was necessarily right with the world.  I’m not positive, but this book may have been my first dystopian reading experience.

Eleven-year-old Amy has grown up in the underground city of laborers.  Children are taught how to do the various heavy labor jobs laid out for them.  Adults work hard and spend the rest of their time usually zoned out in small rooms.  Amy harbors a secret.  Her mother’s last boyfriend taught her to read before he disappeared.  And reading is against the rules.  The authorities keep an eye out for troublemakers who can do things like read and think too much.  Those who are too quick at tasks, or just not content with their lot.  Amy tries to fly below the authority radar until the day she meets Axel.  Axel is very different from anyone she’s ever known.  He claims he’s not from any level of the underground city, he’s from outside–having accidentally gotten loaded into a harvesting bin by robots on the surface and brought down below.  He knows nothing about Amy’s world, except that he hates it and wants to get home.  With nothing to lose, Amy decides to help him find a way to the surface.  But in doing so, the two youngsters will discover truths about those who live underground and on the surface–will they survive long enough to find Axel’s home?

Despite the years since this book was published, a lot of the themes are just as relevant today as they were over 30 years ago.  A massive population of workers oppressed and kept underground fed ignorance and cheap entertainment to keep them content.  A city of elites who have no concept of the human cost of the idyllic space they live in and enjoy, but no practical skills or survival ability either.  A struggle to find a middle ground, a place not run by class or caste.  The reading thing had a huge impact on me when I first read it.  The fact that Amy could read the words around her and react to them while her peers were completely reliant on the videos and verbal information was striking.  I take reading for granted, but imagine a society where you can’t read and aren’t taught–what walls that creates!

H. M. Hoover, to the best of my knowledge, is still alive, but has not written anything new since the 90s.  I found no biographical info on Wikipedia or Goodreads but did find a bio here at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction website. It’s notable that there were so many women writing children’s science fiction during the 1970s and 1980s–it meant that not only was I seeing science fiction books with strong female protagonists, but noticing that many of the writers I loved were women–and that perhaps I’d one day be a writer myself. (It hasn’t happened as of yet–but I’m sure the message was not lost on other authors who were kids at the time.)

If you’ve never heard of Helen Mary Hoover or her works, I’d encourage you to see if you can find a few and read them.  They’re hard to find for the most part–most, if not all, are long out of print.  But for futuristic science fiction,  I’d still point to this author as having some of my favorite middle grade stuff.

Comments welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on January 10, 2014, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I re-read Children of Morrow last year. It was one that had always stayed with me. I’ll have to look for others… I do wish they were easier to find – perhaps someone will digitize them eventually. Thanks for talking about them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: