Candor by Pam Bachorz
While I found Pam's Drought to have a few drawbacks, I have no such compunctions about her first novel, Candor. In fact, I've already passed my three-week-old copy to the first person on my rec list, with the promise to let it make the rounds as soon as she's done.
The premise: Oscar Banks is a model citizen, or so he would have you believe. After learning that he (and every other child of Candor) is being brainwashed into his father's idea of the perfect child, he sets out to save himself and every other kid of parents with more money than morals. Make no mistake, though -- Oscar's no goody-goody; he charges a hefty price for his services, building a nest egg to fuel his own eventual departure from Candor. But his "perfect plan" develops a little hiccup in the form of a perfectly imperfect and independent girl who shows up and wins his heart without the slightest effort.
Candor is one layer of manipulation, thievery and misplaced trust woven into another, and then another, and then another. Oscar is both genuinely charming and a complete jerk; I found myself rooting for him to get what he wants as well as a smack upside the head at a half-dozen different points. He's clearly a real kid, with a real kid's foibles, and his oh-so-stealthy, almost Tom-Sawyer-like escapades are so obvious, you realize the only reason he wasn't caught out in his work to "beat the system" years before the novel takes place is because he's the only person in the town completely above reproach -- his father touts him to prospective-buyer-parents as the model of "what your child can be", and those who buy the brainwashing for their own offspring repeat the sale. The entire town is brainwashed -- literally -- to think he's the perfect child, and no one in a position of power ever questions his role or place in it. The perfect rat. Does the rat get the cheese or the trap?
Candor gets five stars. It's exceptionally well written, a page turner that holds up to a second read, and has the best ending I've read in any YA novel. Highly recommended.
First published at Goodreads: see all my reviews