In the not too distant future - 2065 to be exact - Earth's natural resources have dwindled due to overpopulation and wasteful usage. Inside the gated city where Ransom Lawe lives, laws govern everything from how much water comes out of the faucet at one time to how many children a woman can birth. With frequent blackouts, little food, no fuel for travel, and few reasons to get up in the morning, it's a hard, bleak existence. Still, it beats living out in the wild. At least in the city people have food. Sometimes.
As a recycler, Ransom makes barely enough money to support his wife and two young sons. Working long hours, plus wasting precious minutes trying to navigate the city's unreliable tram system, means he barely sees his family at all. Perhaps that's how he misses the fact that his wife is pregnant - with an illegal third child. Some people can afford to buy an extra child credit, but Ransom can't. Since Teya's insistent on keeping the baby, Ransom investigates every option available to them. To no avail.
With each passing week, Teya's pregnancy becomes harder to conceal. If anyone discovers her secret - a nosy neighbor, a cold-hearted snatcher, or Teya's sister, the Population Director - she will be taken, the child forcefully expelled from her body. The more desperate Ransom's situation grows, the more insane it seems. Should their tainted government really have this much control over people's lives? Disillusioned as he is, Ransom still can't imagine leaving the city. Where would he go? How would he even make it out in the wild with young children and a pregnant wife? He'd rather sacrifice his baby. Wouldn't he?
Grappling with doubt, fear and outright desperation, Ransom must choose what to believe in, whom to trust. In a world where one wrong move could cost him everything, Ransom needs to be very, very careful where he steps ...
While the plotting and character development in The Third by Abel Keogh leave something to be desired, it's not a bad debut novel. Not at all, really. The idea of population control makes Keogh's dystopian world unique (although Margaret Peterson Haddix also has a series about illegal third children), since most end-of-the-world societies have the opposite problem. It's also an issue rife with tension, making the story both intense and relevant. I actually loved the whole idea of it. Keogh makes some rookie mistakes, though - characters that don't exactly leap off the page, info-dumpy dialogue, and plot devices that hinge entirely on coincidence - all of which distract from the story. Still, the novel commanded my attention, propelling me through its pages in a matter of hours. Did I love every word? No, but I think Keogh's got some serious potential and, just for the record, if he happened to write a sequel to The Third, I would totally read it. Hint, hint.
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and intense situations