Just City is an engaging, philosophically oriented YA novel that helps show readers how to find the values that matter the most to them.
The story follows Nathan, a budding young entrepreneur striving to succeed on his own, as he works to earn money to enter a start-up contest. As part of this, he takes part in a virtual reality game, Just City, created by his grandmother, a neuroscience and experimental philosophy professor.
The game is an experiment in which players determine the rules of a virtual society, such as the boundaries of criminal justice and health care, before being plunged into randomly selected characters from different walks of society. Based on his experiences playing the game, as well as an argument with a friend, Nathan begins to reevaluate his beliefs.
Narrated by Nathan, the novel does a wonderful job showing the thoughts and feelings of a privileged young man reexamining his views. He begins believing in firm logic and “willpower,” and that the downtrodden simply don’t have the “will” to succeed. Indeed, the app he wants to develop for the contest would prevent homeless people from stealing supermarket shopping carts. In the game, playing a poor young man accused of a terrible crime, he realizes that such people can be trapped through no fault of their own.
The novel also captures the difficulties of extremes. While smart, his friend Jack has no empathy and may have sabotaged Nathan years earlier. Another friend Alex, and Alex’s sister Maria, are kind and friendly, but firmly believe in alternative medicines and not vaccinating their children. It’s fascinating to watch Nathan move from one to the other, while slowly understanding the problems in both and adopting the best parts of each for a value system.
The language is easy to understand, with concepts like brain development explained through dialogue, and the novel flows quickly. Adults both young and older will find Just City an exciting and moving read.
Also available as an ebook.