“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
– Ben Franklin
The Office of Civilian Safety and Defense confirmed that a chemical weapons attack against the United States is imminent. Terrorists have released a latent cocktail of poisons into the atmosphere, where it can remain, inert, until such time as they choose to detonate it. You are directed to report to a designated distribution center in your area to receive an antidote that will protect you. Weekly allotments of this antidote will be provided free of charge for as long as the threat persists. The OCSD expects the terrorists to mount repeated attacks, so it is essential that you take the recommended daily dosage. Compliance is a small price to pay for your safety.
SPOILER: The OCSD is not to be trusted.
Counteract is a Young Adult dystopian novel, and unabashedly so, but it departs from those that I’ve read by setting the story in a world that is recognizably ours. Counteract takes place in 2034, in an America suffering under decades of relentless terrorism and economic malaise. The creation of the Office of Civilian Safety and Defense (OCSD) in 2019 resulted in the creation of a quadrant system, restrictions on the press and social media, restrictions on food distribution, restrictions on sporting events and other large gatherings, abolition of the writ of habeas corpus and Miranda rights, and an unelected bureaucrat becoming more powerful than the president. By 2034 Homeland Security, the TSA, and even OSHA have been folded under its umbrella.
It’s against that backdrop that the OCSD announces the latest threat, and its latest response. It’s kind of a silly threat and response, but the people have been well primed to accept both. Including Careen and Tommy, our protagonists. Careen is a first-year college student who lost her father to a terrorist bombing. Tommy is a local recovering from the accident that robbed him of his parents and shattered his right leg.
It quickly becomes clear to the reader, if not Careen and Tommy, that something is off about the antidote CSD. Careen’s and Tommy’s mild hallucinatory trips on CSD are the best writing of the book, even if they do drag on a bit too long. Eventually Careen and Tommy meet, start to figure out something is amiss, and things really kick off.
Meanwhile, Lawson gives us a glimpse at the wider world (well, the wider American world; this is a country that has become firmly inwardly focused) through Wes, a quadrant marshal and Resistance sleeper agent; Dr. Trina Jacobs, an OCSD employee who gets between the director and his ambitions; Kevin, a lowly OCSD employee who throws in with Jacobs; and Eduardo, a mailman.
Counteract doesn’t do anything revolutionary with the YA dystopian genre. But it stands out for two reasons. One is that the dystopian future it presents seems all too plausible. Lawson has a keen grasp of the ambitions and incompetencies of bureaucrats and the all-too-common irrational and foolish reactions to terrorism by the common people. And she looks all too prescient as 2016 has seen a rash of small-scale terror attacks, most recently in Orlando and Nice. At least we haven’t given massive power to any unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats other than Richard Cordray. The second reason Counteract stands out is Careen and Tommy’s budding relationship, which is both sweet and very real.
Counteract is book 1 in The Resistance Series. Book 3, Ignite, is out tomorrow.
4 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Counteract from the author.
 “Careen looked around in amazement. ‘What are you protesting? Are you against taking the antidote?’
The girl wrinkled her nose. ‘No! We’re protesting against terrorism. Terrorism should stop. Right. Now. So once we take our antidote we’re going to stand outside and sing songs and show those terrorists that we’re not afraid. Like the flower children in Vietnam a hundred years ago.’
‘Umm…wow. Some of the pertinent details aside, Vietnam was still a totally different situation.’ Idiot.
‘We can make a difference if we ask all the terrorists to give peace and understanding a chance.’
‘Oh my gosh! I bet none of our leaders ever thought to try that. You ought to call the president.’”