Running Out of Time (1995), by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Haddix-RunningM. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 movie The Village is blatantly based on this rather interesting novel, although the screenwriter/director does not credit Haddix’s text at all.  The book, not surprisingly, is better than the movie, which, again not surprisingly, introduces a number of more sensational elements and does not include the final scenes of the novel, which show the realist aftermath of the more adventurous and exciting portion of the story.  The premise is that a community has been scientifically developed, peopled by individuals who no longer desire to live according to our society’s standards (ecologically, politically, etc.), who recreate and live in a society replicating nineteenth-century America.  This community flourishes, and is an “experiment” like reality shows such as Frontier House (PBS, 2002, DVD); people could come and watch the community through two-way mirrors.  The crisis arises when members of the community—which by now has children who do not know they are part of an experiment—begin to fall ill of diphtheria, and the promised medical supplies are not forthcoming.  It is eventually determined that the providers—who set up and control the experiment—are not going to help, that the experiment is in fact less sociological and more medical (read: political and financial) than they had been told. The adults in the community devise a plan to alert the outside world to the reality of their situation, but while help arrives, the outcome of their plan is not entirely positive. The legal system as we know it exists in the outside world, and the parents in the community are ultimately charged with child abuse.  We are left trusting in the reasonableness of a system that many readers will recognize as their own… a thought-provoking and real place to be left at the end of a rather dystopic novel.

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