One of my two Lunacon purchases was The Night Children (Starscape, 2008; no editor listed), by Kit Reed, apparently an author of note that I'd somehow never heard of. It's both a Y.A. story and a fairly harsh bit of social commentary about our consumerist society.
The setting is the Castertown MegaMall, clearly a fictional take on the Mall of the Americas and, like its real-life model, a tourist destination in its own right featuring not merely stores but a miniature amusement park inside it. Castertown was dying after all its manufacturing industries collapsed -- does this sound familiar? -- and was essentially bought by the megacorporation Zozzco, run by the reclusive Amos Zozz (who has more than a little in common with "Oz the Great and Powerful" -- a nonmagical wizard behind the curtain) and his daughter Isabella, who quieted any protests by essentially hiring the entire town.
Into the MegaMall comes Jule Devereux, whose parents designed the amazing WhirlyFunRide and then disappeared the night before the MegaMall's Grand Opening. Her Aunt Christy has now disappeared as well, and with nowhere else to go, Jule ends up staying late on the ride until she finds the MegaMall closed for the night. Also in the MegaMall are groups of feral children -- runaways, orphans, escapees from the State Home -- who live by scavenging, shifting bases between empty storefronts and evading Security. One such band is the Castertown Crazies, led by the responsible and caring Tick Stiles, whose parents also vanished mysteriously. Another is the Dingos, a brutal group of young delinquents led by the not-too-bright Burt Arno. Moving mysteriously through the mall, alone and wearing a ski mask, is the teenaged Lance the Loner, who sometimes helps the night children.
It seems at this point to be shaping up to an interesting mix of Peter Pan and the The Boxcar Children, with a nice shiver added by the disappearing parents, the villainous Amos Zozz, and the mysterious Dark Hall. A platoon of terrorized Zozz executives who are dedicated to the point of parody is likewise as much frightening as funny.
I wasn't entirely happy about how the story shaped up, though. Some of the creepiest villainy, like the fate of many of the disappeared adults, is given relatively short shrift, and other parts, like Amos' appearance at the end, tip too far over into parody. This might be a point where a younger reader would be less bothered, but I found the tonal shift from the world of the children to the cartoonish, cackling Amos to be too dramatic and abrupt. The social commentary can also be a bit heavy-handed, which might also go over the head of someone younger. And the ending both has the good guys winning too easily and leaves some major elements unresolved, to the point where I wonder if she's setting up for a sequel, though I can find no evidence of it.
That aside, I mostly like the book and recommend it with mild reservations. The pointed examination of a society controlled by wealthy oligarchs and its own consumerism, tranquilized into acceptance by the bread-and-circuses entertainment the corporation feeds it, is not particularly subtle, but it certainly hits home ("He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither"), and the world of the night children is well-realized and compelling in the way that good tales of clever children surviving and triumphing without adult help are.