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DO YOU BELIEVE THAT, CITIZEN??
The year is 2021 and the money is still green. The fully privatized city of Tulsa, OK, is home to Sara Paige Christie, a teenage girl with her heart set on a film career in L.A. and her camera trained on the graffiti-covered walls of the city’s outskirts. In pursuit of a documentary subject that might propel her from college hopeful to film school admittee at UCLA, Sara has focused her ambitions upon a singularly ubiquitous tag—WH2RR??
From the facades of storefronts to the walls of public restrooms, the tag is appearing nearly everywhere. Its stark all-capital letters and demanding question marks have captured Sara’s imagination, even as the private security personnel of FreeForce Tulsa (FFT) scramble to eliminate the marks with power washers, gray-overs, and full censorship, stripping even photographs of the tags from the locally accessible Internet.
Sara has no doubt that there is meaning hidden in plain sight, and she sets off on a mission to find the person behind the mysterious tags while balancing an already full life: her final exams, her wild best friend, a physical fitness test that threatens her GPA, and a family that seems almost oblivious to what’s happening just down the street from their suburban home.
With the exception, perhaps, of her father.
A retired Marine turned FFT investigator, Sara’s dad has been on the trail of the graffiti artist for his own professional reasons. And if he knows what’s going on, he’s not telling Sara.
And they’re not the only ones on the hunt . . .
Tensions are rising in town and beyond. Between the machinations of the city’s home-grown megachurch, Chosen Hill, and the movements of a growing camp of homeless citizens parked just beyond Tulsa’s comfort and security, life in Tulsa is about to become very interesting, and Sara just might be in the right place to catch it all on film . . .
. . . but only if she survives.
Praise for Mark Falkin’s Contract City
“A breathless ride of a novel. Seventeen-year-old Sara is a protagonist readers are unlikely to forget. Making a documentary film with the hopes of impressing college admission officers, she winds up at the center of a revolution, where no one―not the boy she falls in love with or even her own father―is who he first appears to be. A novel rife with engaging characters and rich with powerful ideas and implicit warnings about an all-too-believable future, Contract City is the very best kind of page-turner.”
―Suzanne Greenberg, author , Lesson Plans, and winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize for Speed-Walk and Other Stories
“Mark Falkin creates a masterful tale in Contract City. Suspense rolls like an ominous thunder cloud creeping across the landscape, threatening total destruction while simultaneously illuminating previously unseen forms with flashes of lightning. Through the resolute eyes of a strong and remarkable young woman who must struggle to decide whom to trust and what to do, Falkin presents a fateful story that may be as prophetic as it is exciting.”
―Ron Cooper, Author, Hume’s Fork and Purple Jesus
“This is an interesting take on the popular dystopian style. The omniscient narrator’s language is elegant, almost out of place in such a gritty world, but the vernacular of the characters’ dialogue is realistic. Teens will identify with the protagonists here, who are concerned with the same issues: sex, alcohol, smoking, school angst, and friendship. VERDICT An additional purchase for any high school library.”
―School Library Journal
“Falkin creates a near-future world that is at once terrifying and uncomfortably familiar, one where corporations have consumed entire cities and history is scrubbed away, even as it happens. His feisty, film-making protagonist, torn between her pre-fabricated suburban life and the troubled world outside her comfort zone, trains her camera on this censored world, revealing its fissures and provoking a confrontation between perception and reality. From the first page, Contract City is an enthralling, white-knuckle read that is enriched by its heroine: an ordinary girl with extraordinary guts.”
―CF Yetmen, Author, The Roses Underneath
“Contract City is an intelligent YA dystopian novel set in the country’s first fully privatized city, Tulsa, Oklahoma. I use the term ‘dystopian’ lightly because the world Falkin created is so realistic that the story balances right on the edge between sci-fi and reality. Set in the very near future, Tulsa has become the first city to become completely privatized, with services such as police, hospitals, and schools run by private corporations. But more is going on than meets the eye. Sara, a teenage documentary film-maker, begins investigating some graffiti that shows up everywhere–the tag WH2RR??. What starts as an interesting documentary subject to help her break into the film scene becomes a deeper and darker mystery, and soon she is hunted by the private police squad as they try to obtain her footage. Contract City strikes the perfect balance between intelligent and action-packed. The world, the characters, and the story are smart and timely, but that doesn’t stop Falkin from creating a fast-paced and exciting story. I loved that he wasn’t afraid to create a dystopian world that’s both subtle and realistic―a believable glimpse into a real, near future. But my favorite thing about the story was Sara. She’s a wonderful, strong YA protagonist. The young artist is brave, clever, curious, and cares about the world around her. At one and the same time, she is strong and vulnerable, which makes her relatable and easy to root for. Although tackling big, real issues, she also has to navigate the challenges of youth, such as finding her place in the world and experiencing a first love. I was on her side from page one. Teens and adults alike will appreciate the intelligence and reality behind this story, and will be rooting for Sara along with me. I enjoyed drinking in every page.”
―Sharon Bayliss, author, Destruction and Watch Me Burn
“A gripping, compelling look at a privatized dystopia by an exciting new writer . . . .. Falkin’s approach to the young female protagonist in dystopia is refreshing because Sara is not a superhero in awkward girl clothing (sorry Katniss and Tris). One of the novel’s most successful elements is how normal Sara is within the given context. Her speech patterns realistically shift depending on her company; Sara’s struggle to find her voice as a filmmaker and a young woman arches throughout, a satisfying way to drive the plot. And she is blessedly not one of those girls too wise for her years. That being said, her intelligence is evident even as her emotions sometimes cloud her ability to discern truth from fact. She is not immune to normal teenage misbehavior and rebellions which perhaps might not make her the tween heroine poster girl in the manner that has become so popular. What it does do is give the novel depth and complexity that facilitates the success of the other components, including characters both major and minor. Sara’s ex-police officer father in particular elevates the tension whenever he appears on the page. The Tulsa setting, fitting considering the premise, comes alive under Sara’s narration. Given that Oklahoma is one of the most red, conservative states in modern society, the choice to use it as a background to the privatized future makes Contract City an engagingly realistic slice of speculative fiction. Falkin’s style is clever, blending the lines between genre and literary without ever sacrificing the fundamental punch of good storytelling. For the reader, it is an enjoyable balance that few books accomplish.”
―Amber Kelly (Generation Cake) teaches composition, literature, creative writing, and history at Howard College, where she is also the dean of General Studies
“Through great writing and engaging characters, Falkin not only tells a complex and compelling story, but keeps readers on their toes right through the stunningly dramatic end.”
―Tim Sanders, NYT Bestselling author, Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends
“Kudos to Mark Falkin for crafting teenage characters who feel refreshingly genuine. Determined to unshroud the mystery surrounding ‘WH2RR??’, Sara and friends are intelligent while still possessing a certain reckless abandon that is tantamount to youth. Add to that a quickly thickening plot and you have Contract City—a gritty, unputdownable thrill ride that stands out from the YA pack.”
―Kristen Zimmer, Author, The Gravity Between Us
“Contract City is a firecracker of a story. Powerful, ambitious and compulsive, Mark Falkin’s futuristic setting left me nostalgic for a world where I still live. Sara is one of those characters—real, raw, vulnerable—who I would follow anywhere, even down paths as dark as this one.”
―Mary Helen Specht, Dobie-Paisano Creative Writing Fellow at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, and author of the novel, Migratory Animals
“I enjoyed the story. Characters are well developed without wordiness, which is difficult and appreciated. Story really took off about 50 pages in. The graphic tags are a nice touch―they add to the intrigue. Very interesting concept, which is frighteningly not as far off as one would hope. I really liked Eddie and his Cougar―great imagery.”
―Michaela Lewandowski Stanton, Avid Fiction Reader, Baltimore, MD
“The author does a great job of reinventing the idea of a ‘coming of age’ story. The protagonist begins her journey making films, and she ends up becoming a filmmaker. She grows as a person, becoming more aware of the turmoil around her. As she continues to come closer to the reality of Contract City, she starts filming and responding to that reality. In the end, she knows how powerful film can be.”
―Cassandra Szmajda, Former Longtime Employee of Bookseller Borders
“Contract City is a suspenseful, compelling look at our possible future.”
―Martín Perna, Founder, Afrobeat band “Antibalas”
“A very strong dystopian take on America in the not too distant future, a fascinating retelling of the darkest days in Tulsa history, and a complex, well-done novel that will definitely appeal to younger readers.”
―Olga Wise, Chair, Austin (TX) Public Library Commission (ret.)
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