________________ CM . . . . Volume xxi Number 15 . . . . December 12, 2014


The Innocence Device. (Rapid Reads).

William Kowalski.
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2014.
116 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-0748-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-0749-5 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-0750-1 (epub).

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Joe MacLachlan.

** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


“As you can see, it works perfectly,” says the Warden, reappearing onscreen. “Today, we will be installing several Innocence Devices around the city. Tomorrow will be a holiday. No one works. Anyone can choose to go through a Device, anytime they want. If the device determines you are an immoral person, you will be executed on the spot. If you are moral, you will be set free. Either way, the Innocence Device will bring an end to your suffering immediately. So what are you waiting for?”

There is another cheer from the crowd. Guards with fierce expressions and busy cattle prods ensure the cheering goes on for a long time.

“JustiCorps,” says the Warden, “is good and merciful.”


The Innocence Device is a short dystopian story that takes place in the year 2147, told from the point of view of Chago, a 24-year-old male prisoner of McDowell Prison. The world that Chago inhabits is largely made up of prison cities. Readers are told that, throughout the 21st Century, because so many rules and laws were created, breaking them was nearly unavoidable and thus nearly everyone was sent to prison. Responsibility for the maintaining of prisons and guarding of prisoners has been given to a large corporation called JustiCorps. Rather than keeping prisoners inside the walls of prisons that have become far too crowded, JustiCorps has allowed large prison cities, and a distinct prison society, to grow outside the walls. However, even these cities have grown too populous; JustiCorps’s solution to this problem is installing “Innocence Devices” around the city. If a prisoner chooses to go through the device, a computer program determines the individual’s innocence and either frees or executes the prisoner accordingly. Chago soon discovers, however, that the devices are not what they seem and that life in McDowell Prison is about to change drastically.

     The style of The Innocence Device is a little simple. Sentences are short, and vocabulary is fairly simple. This is appropriate to the story for two reasons: firstly, the book is part of the “Rapid Reads” series of books which are designed to be quick, engaging novels that can be read in one sitting; secondly, the style fits the main character, Chago, quite well. Chago has lived almost his entire life in the simple world of the prison. He wakes up, he has breakfast, he goes to work, he goes to bed. He is uneducated and has no knowledge of the outside world, and thus, the simple language and structure of the story suit the character well.

     Chago’s naïve worldview does not mean he is a flat or boring character. Quite the opposite, in fact. Chago’s courage and cleverness will surprise readers several times throughout the story, and readers will become emotionally invested in him – especially when they discover that Chago is father to a one-year-old boy whom he loves very much. Chago develops in other ways as well. His naiveté about his world fall away as he realizes that the corporate entity that runs his world has little interest in prisoner health or well-being. After learning that JustiCorps makes a great deal of money from the prisoners they keep, Chago begins to think a little more critically about his world. Thus, the themes of the book – power, corporate greed, and critical thinking – could provide excellent discussion points and connections to current world events.

     While the themes are relevant, the main character is likeable, and the setting provides an unsettling and interesting dystopian background, the story lacks believability to a degree. Readers are provided little explanation for how a computer reads a person’s morality beyond the device’s programmer telling readers: “Somehow it knows the difference [between a good person and a bad person]” (p. 98). Also, Chago ends up in a position of power, and he meets useful allies a little too conveniently. In addition to this, the story ends a little bit abruptly and leaves too many details to the reader to piece together.

     In spite of a few minor problems with the flow of the story however, The Innocence Device is an exciting and thought-provoking novel that low literate readers would likely enjoy very much. Even adults looking for a quicker read will be captivated by this exciting narrative as I certainly was.


Joe MacLachlan is a high school English teacher and teacher-librarian in Brampton, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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