Plot summary: The first in the Escape from Furnace series, Lockdown introduces readers to 14-year-old Alex, a petty thief. When he and his friend Toby break into a home one night, it’s anything but business as usual when they find themselves confronted with a group of men in suits. Alex witnesses in horror as they shoot Toby dead, framing Alex for his murder. He’s sentenced to Furnace, a hellish underground youth prison constructed years earlier when gang wars escalated into mass violence.
Furnace, located a mile below ground, is a one-way trip – inmates are sentenced for life, which doesn’t usually last long. Alex learns quickly that Furnace’s gangs are the least of his problems: nightly raids by creatures in gas masks drag inmates off for purposes unknown; vicious doglike animals can attack at any moment, and something is going on deep in the tunnels of Furnace. The warden is conducting genetic experiments on the inmates taken in the middle of the night.
Alex and a group of inmates he befriends, stick together to stay alive and plot their escape from Furnace. The night before they are to escape, Alex’s cellmate, Donovan, is taken in a nightly raid. Shaken but undeterred, Alex promises to come back for him. The next day, the boys manage to blow a hole in an old passage using gas-filled gloves they collected from kitchen duty and jump to their freedom. But are they really free of Furnace?
Critical Evaluation: Set in dystopian England, Furnace is a horror novel set in a science fiction universe. It speaks to fears that teenagers have today, namely, fears of being wrongfully accused and the loss of freedom – within a fantastic setting.
Alex is a petty thief, but he is not a murderer. Furnace now frames teenagers for murder in order to keep society in line and to provide fodder for the warden’s horrific experiments. Alex is a normal teenager – flawed, but essentially good. He is the moral compass of the book, yearning for his family, friendship, and the chance to change. He is horrified by the things that go bump in the night in Furnace, and the injustice, violence and bullying he sees on a daily basis. He is the voice of the reader.
Awards: American Library Association (ALA) Quick Picks for Young Adults, Georgia Peach Book Award Master List.
Reviews: School Library Journal: “Readers will be turning pages without pause, and the cliff-hanger ending will have them anticipating the next installment.”
Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA): “One of those leave-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrill rides that will grab the reader right from the start. Teens will appreciate Smith’s vivid imagery. His writing is extremely fluid, and he makes the reader feel for the characters, especially the young protagonist, Alex. Readers will be cheering him on from start to finish.”
Reader’s Annotation: Kids sentenced to Furnace are sentenced for life – however short that may be.
Author Information: Alexander Gordon Smith’s website offers information about the author, his books, downloadable wallpapers, and links to extras including a novella based on his Escape from Furnace series; there is also a link to his blog. The publisher also provides an Escape from Furnace website where visitors can play an Escape from Furnace video game, watch book trailers, and read character profiles.
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction, subgenre dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction. Other subgenres include friendship, survival, and teamwork.
Booktalking Ideas: What would you do if you were framed for a crime you didn’t commit? What if that crime sent you away, for the rest of your life, to an underground prison where you would live in unimagineable conditions and never see the sun again? In 14-year-old Alex’s world, gang warfare led to the creation of Furnace, a hell on earth for teenagers. What would you do to survive in Furnace? Would you try to ally with a gang to survive, or would you try to make strong friendships and plan an escape?
Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13-17.
Challenge Issues/Defense: Violence. Defense: The author uses the violence in Furnace to illustrate the injustice and brutality of a society that has taken fear and paranoia to unreasonable levels. This same society uses fear to control both the society in the prison and the society above ground.
Why did you include this book in you’re the titles you selected?
Recommended by my 12-year old son, this book has received strong critical and consumer praise and is a strong entry in dystopian fiction.