Your pulse is racing; you're pretty sure the person behind you can hear it. You forgot the impact those four words can have on you as you fumble with your pencil between your sweaty fingers and involuntarily draw a large dark slash across the paper. Panicking, you flip around the pencil and begin rubbing as furiously as possible with the eraser.
The words "pop quiz" and "one minute" are possibly the most frightening four words you've ever heard.
Enter the world of Truancy, by Isamu Fukui.
In Truancy, there exists a dystopia controlled by a manipulative (not to mention dangerous) educational system and a cruel, shadowy dictator known simply as 'The Mayor'. The Mayor is ruthless in his atttempts to control the populace, this he does through the media, the authorities, and most importantly the schools. This mayor follows the old slave owners mantra: keep the body strong and the mind weak. This mayor seems to be one of several men who've been assigned to retain control over their own large groups of people, though Fukui doesn't give us particularly much information as to the world around this single city.
Outside the city lies an abandoned urban wasteland; within lies great mystery to just about everybody within the city. This is because this area has been condemned, and ordinary citizens are forbidden entrance.
Within the city, there's little to look forward to. School is just plain unfair, the rules are extremely loose (and by loose I mean poorly defined), and it seems that school authorities are trained in the art of cruelty. It seems they have one simple job: keep the students as occupied as possible, make sure they keep their heads down, and don't allow any to think for themselves! The point of this, it seems, is to ensure a future full of blindly obedient adults raised on the system, so used to it, and these adults who've given up the fight are all The Mayor needs to retain control of his little city.
Of course, where there's a hideously corrupt system, there's somebody to oppose it. This is where the Truancy comes in.
The Truancy is composed of students who've escaped the system by expulsion. Unfortunately for the students, expulsion would typically spell "doomed", as an expelled student is usually shunned by his or her family, and will become a wandering vagrant, likely to die of starvation or something similarly heinous. Of course The Mayor, losing power over these people, has decided to deem them nightmarishly dangerous, and citizens are not allowed contact with vagrants.
The Truancy has decided on just how unfair that is. Seeing through the system, they've decided to band together to take action. Led by the radical Zyid, they launch assaults directly onto the system itself, attacking key figures and authorities.
Finally, everything trickles down unto our humble protagonist, Tack. Tack lives a relatively ordinary life, stressed by school but seeing no other options, just like all the other kids. One day, though, his entire world is flipped, and he slowly uncovers the truth about what lies behind the scenes.
I'm afraid I must stop myself here for the sake of not giving away too much about the book.
What I can tell you is that Mr. Fukui has written a brilliant dystopia that's meant as a hyperbole of the current educational system, primarily highlighting some of its failings. While the book felt rather preachy early on, Fukui manages to drive the points home with class later in the book. It was a very fast paced novel, the setting seemed to be the relatively near future (perhaps sometime in the mid 2020's, at least through the eyes of people living in the late 2000's) though Fukui never really provides us much information as to just when everything is happening.
In all, this is a prime example of a dystopia, an impressive novel, and all the more amazing is the fact that the author was in high school at the time of writing it! It's a very stirring read, and if you enjoy mysterious action-packed dystopias in relatively futuristic urban settings, discussion of educational systems, and books by young authors, you'll likely enjoy this book. If I had to describe it in a pinch, it's like Animal Farm meets the action of The Hunger Games meets the educational system of Hard Times.