Letter Essay #9: Lockdown

Derek, Angie, and Ben

Mr. Jockers

ILA Period 5



     Recently, our group finished reading the book “Lockdown,” a 290 page dystopian novel by Alexander Gordon Smith. Alexander Gordon Smith is an author for children and young adults. He is also the author of “The Fury” and The Inventors books. His new series, “The Devil’s Engine, has just been released in the United States, starting with “Hellraisers.


     Our group first found this book interesting because if the cover- yes- in fact we did all judge a book by it’s cover, an image of a man with a big gas mask on his face, we didn’t know what to expect! However, it didn’t exactly turn out as expected. Reading the reviews on the front cover, some saying things like, “Hotter than Hell and TWICE as much fun!” Got us thinking that the book was going to be packed with action and full of cliffhangers, especially hearing other reviews that make the book sound intriguing, and a review by James Patterson, another famous author saying, “Fresh and Ferocious”, we thought we were in for a suspense filled thriller, but it was not at all what we expected. We were not huge fans of the book overall, and although we saw the appeal we decided it was not a great book for our specific tastes.


     The novel “Lockdown” is a novel about a 14 year old boy named Alex. He originally lived in a world, where gang violence was a huge problem at his age, which sounds unrealistic, but this story takes place in the distant future. When he and his friend Toby break into a home one night, it was not just what they expected. In the house, they find men in black suits in front of them. These men shot Toby, killing him, and framed Alex for the murder. After being framed, Alex was sentenced to Furnace Penitentiary, a maximum security prison for young law offenders, which was originally created for the extreme gang violence that took place a few years earlier. Furnace Penitentiary, nicknamed “Furnace”, is located a mile below the surface, and everyone that has been sentenced here has been sentenced to life in prison without parole, like Alex has been. Soon after his arrival, he found out that Furnace is not just your typical prison. Although riddled with gangs, just like the outside world, Alex has many more things to be concerned about. Every night, there are creatures that come out. Some are in gas masks, the others are big, ferocious, and mean, and can strike at any moment, whether you expect it or not. These are part of the genetic experiments that the evil, dreaded warden conduct on the inmates at Furnace. Alex, and a group of inmates who met at the beginning of the story, are plotting an escape plan, for they were framed as well by the “blacksuits”, who killed Toby at the beginning of the story, and they, as well as Alex, did not want to spend their lives in prison. However, the night before their planned escape was going to take place, one of their friends, Donovan, was dragged away by one of the creatures in a nightly raid, leaving Alex, and his friends wondering if he survived or not. Alex then promised to come back for Donovan, but this did not stop him from attempting to escape the next day.


     We found that at the end of the book, the resolution seemed very unsatisfying. The author seemed to try to leave the reader on cliffhanger but since there wasn’t enough leading up to it, it just seemed underwhelming Alex is running from the dogs while all his friends are left behind, captured by guards. He jumps off a ledge down to a river, the book cuts there. You don’t know whether or not Alex or any of his friends even survive. There is no freedom that they were all working towards, no ending that offers any sort of reprieve of the arduous work to break out of the prison they were kept in wrongfully. All we know is that Alex is most likely going to die in the jagged rocks sticking out of the river, and Alex’s friends  are going to be killed or worse, tortured and turned into “blacksuits”.  The whole book was about Alex wanting to escape from the Furnace but in the end you never even learn if he does. This is partially due to the fact that the book is the first in a series of five books following this storyline however it still feels like the reader deserves at least some sort of resolution.


     We wish that the author, Alexander Gordon Smith, had told more about Alex’s life before becoming a criminal as well as just more about the world Alex lives in. He hints about something called “The Summer of Slaughter” where kids all over the country formed gangs and killed many many people. Apparently, although Alex was never in a gang or in any danger of one, he still fell down the wrong path and began to rob houses and people. Otherwise we know very little about Alex from before the point where the book actually begins. He never tells of his family or friends, there are never flashbacks, and we just never get any insight deeper into him as a person, instead of just him being a fugitive in a horrible penitentiary. Adding these extra details about Alex’s life would help to relate more with both him and other characters if you can see the mistakes they made and the lives they are missing out on.


     As a group we were all very angry, surprised, and saddened when we learned that Alex’s cellmate and closest thing to a best friend in the prison, Donovan, was taken by the monsters that came in the night, dragging prisoners out of their cells to be experimented on and turned into terrifying beasts. It is unclear whether or not Donovan survives his encounter, but even though he may be alive, he will only have to endure whatever it is that the sick people behind the Furnace’s experiments have planned for him. This affected us as the readers because Donovan had been there for Alex (for the most part) the whole book. He had already been in Furnace before Alex was sent there so he protected him and showed him the ropes of how the prison works, keeping him alive. Donovan was a generally likeable character, even with his flaws, and a big part of the story, leaving us baffled when he was killed off at the very end of the book.


     Finally, we were interested in the passage when Alex is expressing his thoughts on Furnace Penitentiary. “I defy even the bravest adult to spend the night in a place like Furnace in the pitch black without thinking that every noise is something right behind you with dagger teeth and eyes of silver and blood on its breath; that every whisper of air that runs over your skin is the rush of a descending blade; that every flicker of movement is a tendril of darkness wrapping itself around your throat and coiling in the pit of your belly, where it feasts on your soul.” Alex feels the need to justify his fear of the things that could very well be lurking around any corner, and how unlike when children are afraid of monsters, these beasts are very real and very frightening. It shows how although these people are sent to spend their whole lives in the torturous Furnace, they are still kids who’s entire lives are being taken from them.


     What we find interesting about this passage is that it really shows how terrible of a place Furnace is, and how paranoia inducing and scary it can be. Alex states that even the bravest adult would even be spooked by how terrifying it is, that you can be killed, or taken at any moment. Alex feels the need to justify his fear of the things that could very well be lurking around any corner, and how unlike when children are afraid of monsters, these beasts waiting for their prey are very real and very frightening. It shows how although these people are sent to spend their whole lives in the torturous Furnace, they are still kids who’s entire lives are being taken from them and it truly puts us in the shoes of someone who in essence is just a scared child who is in an awful jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Overall, although there were some pleasing aspects of this book and we could see how people like it, it wasn’t one of the best we’ve ever read, nor did it particularly interest any of us, therefore rating it a 5 out of 10.

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