I couldn't help but notice that this book is one of the elements in the clickbait listicle at Gizmodo: 10 Books You Pretend to Have Read (And Why You Should Really Read Them). I've now read six out of the ten.
But seeing that list was coincidence. I've owned this book since the mid 1970s (retail price $1.25 back then, nowadays the paperback will set you back $15.00 at Amazon). Reading Chandler's The Big Sleep back in February reminded me that the author, Leigh Brackett, was one of the screenwriters for the Bogie movie. And that also reminded me that she got a screenwriting credit for "The Empire Strikes Back". Now that's a career. But how about this book?
Originally published in 1955, it's a dystopian novel of sorts. It's set decades after a big old nuclear war that didn't quite put us back to the Stone Age, but squarely back in the 19th century. Cities are gone, and the USA has passed the Thirtieth Amendment, which forbids towns greater than 1000 people, or more than 200 buildings per square mile. The most advanced technology: some clunky steam engines. There's—literally—old time religion, a lot of various flavors of Mennonite.
What puts the "dys" in this dystopia: anything that might threaten to bring back the bad old days of near-armageddon is ruthlessly quashed, usually by lawless mob violence driven by fear.
Against this backdrop, young Len Coulter is feeling the stirrings of curiousity and rebellion. His cousin Esau is also chafing under societal constraints, but does something Len would never consider: stealing a gadget from the horsecart of the mysterious trader Ed Hostetter. And then swiping some pre-war textbooks. Pretty soon Len and Esau find themselves in hot holy water, and their yearnings cause them to bug out of their community in search of the fabled city of Bartorstown!
Which they eventually come to. But it's not what they expected.
A few pages in, I was wondering if this was published as a juvenile. (Heinlein was writing his juveniles in the 1950s, after all.) Then a few more pages in, I realized there was quite a bit of explicit violence; maybe a no-no for school library shelves. Then a surprising amount of, well, sex. Discreetly described, but still. Given what I've heard about school libraries, it might fit right in today.