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Here's what I remember about the book:

  1. It was published in the 1980's as a mass market paperback.
  2. The cover features people in white jumpsuits.
  3. One of the telepathic characters is a professional/Olympic? swimmer. The authorities trick her into betraying herself by imagining that they are pounding on her door. When she responds, they know she is a telepath.
  4. Another character is a young orphan boy with a habit of hiding food for later.
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  • It's possibly a spin off from The Tomorrow People first released as a UK TV series in 1973. Wyndham is a significant influence though, first encapsulating the theme "what if a superior child / race of children existed" He revisits it in several novels and short stories including "Child of Power" (Fantasy, Number 3, 1939), Midwich Cuckoos 1957, The Chrysalids 1955 and Chocky (1963) - sometimes telepathy is a result or part of the experience (Chocky). If you read Wyndham you will understand how far his influence goes - Nazi saucers, alien hybrids, Tesla's discoveries... written 60+ years ago! Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 10:49

2 Answers 2

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This is probably Sideshow (1988) by W. R. Thompson. The cover does indeed have a group of people dressed in white, and it is a classic 1980s mass-market style cover:

Cover of "Sideshow" showing a mixed group of five people dressed in white in front of a futuristic city skyline

Birche, one of the telepaths, was a competitive swimmer, but didn't make the Olympics:

"Yes." Birche hesitated, then said, "I almost made the '96 Olympics, but I wasn't fast enough in the qualification trials. I would have made it if my legs weren't so damned short."

The trick of faking Birche out at the door happens as you describe:

The pounding at her door startled her. "Birche Hol-stein?" The deep, powerful voice matched the pounding. "Birche Holstein, are you in there?"

"Just a minute," Birche said loudly. Who would want to see her at this time of night? she wondered. "Who are you?"

"Open the door!" The pounding got louder. "We're from the MHB. Open the door or we'll break it down!"

They really are from the MHB, she thought—and this time it was no dream. She pulled the door open and saw two men in the blue uniforms of MHB field orderlies. "What do you want?"

"We have orders to detain you for observation."

Birche hesitated, caught in a moment of surprise. His lips hadn't moved; he'd thought to her. The pounding and the doomsday voice had been thoughts, a simple trick to prove that she was a telepath.

The blurb tells us that telepaths were hunted and persecuted:

It is the year 2000, and the U.S. sways under the deepest Depression it has ever experienced. Radical groups proliferate, drawing their members from the jobless and the frightened. The Iron Guard: New-Nazis. The New Redeemers: Religious fanatics. Sere: an extremist "save-the-ecology" group. The only group that might save the country are the telepaths and they are hunted by all sides and declared legally insane.

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Probably not your book unless it was a re-print or retelling of the same story, but it sounds a lot like John Wyndham's novel "The Chrysalids" originally published in 1955 (which incidentally inspired the song "Crown Of Creation" by Jefferson Airplane in 1968). Telepaths were hunted down as the "new witches" of the post-apocaplyptic future; they banded together in small tribes.

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    Er, that's not a very accurate description of The Chrysalids. In that book, a post-apocalyptic society destroyed all mutations, but was only aware of physical ones: the narrator and his fellow telepaths escaped precisely because the society had no idea about telepaths. There was certainly nothing about "new witches". Commented May 14, 2012 at 12:11
  • I also thought of "The Chrysalids" when I saw the title. It is similar to your description, but not quite. Chrysalids lite? Commented May 14, 2012 at 13:24
  • @Daniel - probably should not have put that in quotes. What I was referring to was how the persecutors were very akin to the Quaker religious zealots who would hunt down and burn witches (well hang them actually in the USA; burn them in Europe). The term "new witch" meant to be persecuted and have someone point a finger at you in a nearly Monty-Python manner and say "She's / He's a witch! Burn them!" exactly as you pointed out as they did to all mutations. You are right that the main enclave of telepaths escaped, although I am pretty sure that other pockets of telepaths did not. Correct?
    – AJotr
    Commented May 15, 2012 at 4:28
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    @AJotr I'd like to know more about those Quaker religious zealots who were hunting witches in the USA. Reference?
    – user14111
    Commented Dec 26, 2013 at 0:08
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    @AJotr I think he's confusing them with the Puritans in Massachusetts. The Quakers were in Pennsylvania and as far as I know didn't engage in witch hunts.
    – Mike Stone
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 12:45

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