Scavengers by Darren Simpson

The Blurb On The Back:

Follow the rules.

Babagoo’s always right.

Believe only Babagoo.

Respect your fear.

Never go looking outside.

Never rise above the wall.

Landfill has lived his whole life as a scavenger, running with wooflings, swimming with turtles and feasting on whatever he can catch.

Old Babagoo has always looked after him – on one condition.  Follow Babagoo’s rules.  And the most important rule of all is NEVER go beyond the wall.

But Landfill longs to venture Outside.  And some rules are made to be broken.

You can order SCAVENGERS by Darren Simpson from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Landfill has lived his whole life in Hinterland, an area of disused industrial land protected from the Outside by a large wall.  He shares the Hinterland with a variety of creatures – including wooflings like Woolf the husky and Vonnegut the alsatian, a squirrel called Joyce, Atwood the cat and a goat called Kafka.  He is looked after by Babagoo, who has raised him since he was a baby and who keeps him safe from the diseased Outsiders, venturing out to the Spit Pit to pick up food and supplies.  But Landfill also has to obey Babagoo’s many rules such as Babagoo is always right; believe only Babagoo; never go looking outside and never rise above the wall.

Landfill’s never questioned Babagoo’s rules before because he knows that they’re to keep him safe from the Outside and the sickness that turns Outsiders rotten.  The older he gets, however, the more he wants to see the Outside for himself.  And then, one day, he catches Babagoo in a lie and realises that things may not be as they seem.  The only way to find out, though, is to go Outside himself ..

Darren Simpson’s debut dystopian novel for children aged 11+ is a clever, sophisticated character piece with many layers to it that advanced readers and adults will equally get a great deal from, not least because it constantly makes you question your assumptions.  This is one of those books that deserves to be on book award shortlists and I look forward to reading Simpson’s next novel.

It’s difficult to summarise this book without ruining it because so much of the joy lies in its ambiguity.  Simpson doesn’t explain what’s going on – you only get what Landfill understands from what Babagoo has told him and then his perspective on the world around him (including the sinister Hunger’s Eye) so there’s a constant mystery about what exactly is going on, whether Babagoo is lying to Landfill and what the real deal is.  Some answers come when an Outsider finds their way into Hinterland (and the way Simpson handles Landfill’s reaction is beautifully drawn, especially his confusion, fear but also longing to know more) but even then Simpson retains ambiguity up until the end and while I don’t normally like open endings, I thought that this was very well done.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between Landfill and Babagoo, which I found fascinating.  Simpson gives it so many layers – they love each other but Babagoo is also abusive, conniving, possibly lying about a number of things and possibly mentally ill while Landfill possibly has issues of his own, given his conversations with Longwhite, and is certainly lonely and wondering about his own history and where he fits in.  His gradual realisation that Babagoo may be lying to him and the questions it causes in him is really well depicted.  Also well done is the idea that Hinterland – with its dirt and broken buildings and deprivation – is a paradise of sorts that slowly breaks down as the relationship between Babagoo and Landfill becomes more fractured.  For the most part it’s easy to visualise its geography, but there were a couple of scenes where I was left a little confused (although this is a minor gripe).

Ultimately, there is so much going on within this book that I think advanced readers in particular will enjoy it – especially as there are some discussion points at the back that can frame a conversation with teachers or parents – and it’s the type of book that deserves to be on awards lists. 

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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