One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth | Review

Posted May 1, 2014 by Tara Gold in Review /// 0 Comments

One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth | ReviewThe One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth
Series: standalone
Published by Algonquin Books on 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Middle Grades, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Source: ARC from Edelweiss

In this near-future dystopia with echoes of The Giver and Among the Hidden, Tania Unsworth has created an unsettling page-turner—fast-paced, smooth, filled with dread—that's wholly satisfying and startlingly original.

Devin doesn't remember life before the world got hot; he has grown up farming the scorched earth with his grandfather in their remote valley. When his grandfather dies, Devin heads for the city. Once there, among the stark glass buildings, he finds scores of children, just like him, living alone on the streets. They tell him rumors of a place for abandoned children, with unlimited food and toys and the hope of finding a new family. But only the luckiest get there.

An act of kindness earns Devin an invitation to the home, but it's soon clear that it's no paradise. As Devin investigates the intimidating administrator and the zombie-like sickness that afflicts some children, he discovers the home's horrific true mission. The only real hope is escape, but the place is as secure as a fortress.

Fans of dystopian fiction and spine-chilling adventure will devour The One Safe Place; its haunting themes will resonate long after readers have turned the final page.

This book is described as The Giver meets Among the Hidden, but I actually found it to be quite like a different YA dystopian novel that I read recently. Which may have meant that I saw the twist in the story coming. Which may have affected my enjoyment of the story a little bit.

Okay, first let’s talk about our main character, Devin. He’s a very typical middle grades novel protagonist. Sweet, innocent, naive, bright, hard-working, and a little lost. But he also has synesthesia and, bless his heart, does not realize that he experiences the world differently because he grew up isolated on his grandfather’s farm. Though he often talks about the world through his senses, he also appears to have a photographic memory…which I didn’t really understand. But, okay. Cool. A kid with synesthesia was a little different, and ended up being relevant to story. However, overall I didn’t really feel terribly connected to Devin as a character. I often feel this way with middle grades novels, though, I think it’s because the nature of the age level is that protagonists are young and naive. As they should be! They’re kids!

The one thing I didn’t get was why Devin didn’t just go to the city and ask some kids to go back to the farm with him. Wouldn’t that have made sense? The kids he meets in the city are obviously poor, why not recruit them as help? Problem solved, crisis averted.

Second, let’s talk about the dystopian element. Now this was interesting. I did like the generally vague setting and the absence of any kind of info-dumping about how the world and society became harsh. Devin is never privy to this information. And the Home where the children go, the truly dystopian element, was intriguing. Something was clearly up from day one, and the sinister motivations of the people in charge were pretty awful. Even though I knew what was really going on, I can see that a middle school student probably wouldn’t guess this particular twist.


This was a good novel, but not a brilliant one, and not the novel for me. I don’t generally read a lot of middle grades novels, so it I knew going in to the story that it might not be my cup of tea. However, I really enjoyed The Giver and Among the Hidden, but found One Safe Place to be quite different from these. Middle school fans of those novels will probably enjoy this one, so don’t let my personal feelings stop you from considering this for your students. It does have some frightening concepts and violence (especially near the end), so it may not be appropriate for more sensitive children. Otherwise, it has pretty general appeal.

Tara Gold

Tara is a PhD candidate studying education. Her dissertation is on digital book communities as public pedagogy (ask her about it!), though she often takes a break from all of that to read books about oppressive governments and sassy teenagers. In a former life, she was a middle school teacher and middle school librarian. In her future life...well, that's yet to be determined, but it probably involves getting kids jazzed about books or research. In her free time, she drinks a lot of coffee while planning her next grand adventure (there's always something).

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