This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 17.5.
While I was reading Cheryl Rainfield’s Hunted, I attended a lecture by Karen Armstrong, founder of the Charter for Compassion. Listening to Armstrong, lines and scenes from Hunted repeatedly rose up in my mind, and I thought: this is more than a dystopic novel about oppression and intolerance (which it is); it is a powerful narrative example of the strength it takes, within an oppressive culture, to maintain one’s sense of humanity.
In Hunted, Caitlyn and her mother are continually running, changing names, schools, lives… because Caitlyn is a “Paranormal,” a telepathic who can read others’ thoughts and emotions: a power that frightens those without it. In Caitlyn’s world, Paranormals of all kinds must be registered, and once registered, are removed from society and tortured, sometimes forced to hunt other “Paras.” During the uprising that led to this abusive system, Caitlyn’s father was murdered and her brother Daniel taken away; she and her mother fled. After years of running, Caitlyn finally needs to stop, to rest, to blend in. Rejoining society—as much as she is able—is difficult, dangerous, and yet rewarding. Her two new “Normal” friends are similarly, if not equally outcast: Rachel is lesbian and Alex is black. While Rachel’s lesbianism is highlighted as a consideration in her relationship with Caitlyn, Alex’s race is not sufficiently apparent to the reader. When we meet him, we are told that “his skin contrasts with his crisp white shirt” (30), but that could make him Mediterranean, or even just well-tanned. Once, later, Caitlyn mentions his “springy black curls” (148), but no other mention is made until almost he end of the book, when the term “black” is finally used. In our white-washed world, a few more hints would be welcome.
The political aspects of the plot—too complicated to delineate but solidly structured and effective—lead to a crisis for which Caitlyn’s online avatar, Teen-Para, has been made the scapegoat. In the end, sacrifices are made by individuals on both sides, and readers are left with a strong message regarding blanket assumptions about good and evil. Caitlyn’s faith in the goodness, the inherent humanity, of “Normals” is justified, as is her wariness of belief in anyone merely because they are paranormal. There are hints here of Katniss’s response to the politics of Panem in the end of the Hunger Games trilogy: a group being oppressed and thus rebellious does not necessarily equate with that group being right or justified. What Caitlyn and the reader have reinforced is a message of tolerance of difference, and a wariness of all individuals who seek power at the expense of others.
The Charter for Compassion expounds that “compassion is not an option; it is the key to our survival” (Alastair Smith, Greater Vancouver Compassion Network); faithful to this humanist tenet, Caitlyn strives to create the compassionate world her father envisioned: “Dad dreamed of a world where we could live freely—but he also taught me that all life is precious, Normal or Paranormal, and that we’re all in this together” (294). The power of Hunted is that by the end of the novel, the reader is sure that she is right.