When her best friend's sister disappears, Katherine starts searching for her, in the process discovering that the community she lives in is not the beautiful utopia she always thought and that the outside world is not a toxic wasteland. Katherine is a young girl who always follows the rules and is proud of her upstanding behavior. She lives in the Community which follows the rules listed in the Manifesto and is headed by a man everyone refers to as Father. The Manifesto dictates that people are expected to surrender individuality for the greater collective and any questions are considered illegal and against the Manifesto. Though Katherine never breaks any rules, her parents always break the rules in secret. As the years pass, her mother begins to remind her that she will soon be given a Life Role (a job) in the Community and she should start thinking about marriage.
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One day, one of the cute boys in Katherine's class suddenly expresses interest in her. Katherine is excited. Later that day, she wants to tell her best friend Anna about the news but Anna tells her that her sister, Serenity, is missing. Meanwhile, Katherine is summoned to meet with Father who shows quite an interest in her. He tells her she may have great potential to take a leadership role in the Community after Harvest Break but only if she follows the Community Rules. If she breaks the rules, she will be sent to do manual labor in the fields.
One day, Katherine notices Father drop a letter. Upon reading the letter she finds out that Father is involved in some sort of illegal sounding activity involving lots of funds. When Father sees that Katherine has read the letter, he gives her a warning. If Katherine collects too many warnings, she will lose her opportunity to be high up in the Community. Her hair is also cut. With her hair cropped like that, she is publicly shamed and there's no chance she will get married until her hair grows back. Her parents lecture her and tell her she's got to earn back the trust of Father and the Community. Katherine decides to sneak back to Father's office anyway to find out what the letter was about. That night, she overhears a secret meeting of the Community Leaders. At the meeting, she is surprised to see her dad who is arguing with Father about the way the Community is run and how it restricts his freedoms. Apparently her dad and mom had been friends with Father back when the Community was created.
Katherine breaks into Father's office and reads all these strange notes he has about members of the Community. She hopes to find something about Serenity's disappearance but there is nothing clear. At home, Katherine begins to ask her parents a lot of questions about the world outside the Community. Apparently the Community used to be run by people vaguely referred to as "Aunts and Uncles" but they had left the Community and died in the toxic wasteland outside. Even though these stories are horrible, Katherine is sure that there exists a livable world outside and she is determined to find a way to see it for herself.
At school, Katherine sees Anna looking miserable because no one has been able to find Serenity. She reveals that her sister had been sick before she disappeared. Apparently, Father had given Serenity some injections and special supplements, promising that Serenity would be better. But instead of getting better, Serenity started getting weird lumps on her body and losing hair. Katherine finally tells Anna that she thinks there's something wrong with the Community. She promises that she will help Anna find her sister.
One day, Katherine thinks she's found out where a landing strip for an airplane might be. She walks towards that location but ends up being electrocuted by an invisible perimeter fence and blacks out. When she wakes up, she has been discovered by Father and some other Community Leaders but it seems like for now, they believe her story about just trying to go for a long walk.
One night, Katherine sees Father and some of the other Community Leaders waiting in the middle of a field. While they wait, they talk of getting medical and other supplies. Father also mentions getting funding for some experiment of his that seems to involve Serenity. A helicopter lands soon after to drop off the supplies. Katherine sneaks onto the helicopter. She's caught by the pilot but he seems rather friendly and harmless. The pilot is amused by Katherine's ignorance of basic names for things like 'bathroom' and 'helicopter'. He hands her off to another friendly security guard named Paul who asks for her story. After Katherine tells her his story, however, he becomes concerned that human experimentation might be going on in the Community. Katherine learns the Outside world is not a toxic wasteland and that all Father has told her about the world being decimated has been a lie.
Paul shows her around the “Outside World” and Katherine enjoys learning new things and experiencing more freedom than she ever had at the Community. A radio report announces that she is a fugitive, however, and that anyone who finds her should report her whereabouts to authorities. Paul decides to help her find a safe place to hide. On the way there, Katherine sees a hospital and thinks that Serenity might be inside. She bursts in and nearly risks being discovered but since she can't provide Serenity's last name, the hospital staff can't help her. She decides to return to the Community to get her family out.
When she goes back to the Community, she learns from Father that the Community was a social experiment to see if perfect socialism would work as a governing foundation for Canada. Father tells her that Serenity had cancer and was sent for treatment. He thinks that her experience Outside and the fact that she's come home means that she now has the maturity and wisdom to see his vision for the Community. When Katherine rejects him and takes her family out of the Community, he is angry but he can't stop her. The story ends with Katherine's parents wishing they had the courage to take the family out of the Community earlier.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like that this story stirs up discussion about the nature of freedom and what makes a happy society. Katherine could easily have lived happily in the Community is she didn't question her surroundings too much. Many of the Community members appeared happy. But, once she found out about the Outside world, she could not go back to her blissful ignorance of the truth.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Paul takes Katherine around the city to experience the Outside world. Katherine's vision of the world is now so big and she is slightly frightened by her new freedoms but also curious to experience it all. It was fun reading how she processed the world with her new understanding.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Katherine was daring enough to go the Outside even though there were plenty of horrible stories about people dying terrible deaths Outside. I also like her sense of curiosity which was in stark contrast with the rest of the Community members who essentially followed the doctrines of the Manifesto like compliant sheep.