Authors are often too passionate about the ideas they discuss. It is refreshing to find a writer who does not fall into the trap of first telling us all about the issues, and then putting characters in to show what they mean.
This story ties together a great number of crucial issues: population expansion, the proliferation of espionage activities, the nature of trust, the role of the parent, and the concept of self. But the philosophy does not interfere with the story. Quite the other way around. The story and the characters always come first. The experiences happening to the main character, an average (well, as it turns out, not so average) 17-year-old American kid named Billy, reveal the ideas in an integral way. It is only after action happens that we start questioning why.
The advantage to the reader is that we don’t feel led by the nose. The author lays out the evidence, and we are able to respond as we choose.
Personally, I found it ironic that so many of the testimonials at the front of the book were from people in the military fields. My own interpretation, hyper-sensitized as I am to the prevalence of guns and the results of their misuse in America today, is that the casual presence of weapons in the hands of just about everybody, from the home level and all the way up through the military to the espionage system, is the root cause of all the problems in the story. But the characters, all believers in the system, forge blithely on, unaware of the evil deeds they are condoning.
There are no villains in this story. Everyone thinks he’s the good guy. Even the Mexican drug cartel gunman is a logical, thinking human being. But when the system is broken, no amount of effort by even those with the best ideals can do anything but make things worse.
The two competing father figures in Billy’s life are active players, each trying his utmost to do the right thing for the boy. You can judge for yourself how successful they are. His mother is a more reactive character, as events she cannot control play out around her and on her. And she is the character to watch, because the only solution to such a situation comes on a personal level. Belief in yourself and what you can be is about the only reaction that will allow the individual to survive such times, and the worse ones that are sure to come. Unfortunately, I am left wondering if the self that Billy has come to believe in isn’t just a modern version of the good old American pioneer, whose confidence is heavily bolstered by the gun in his hand.
However dismayed I may be by the themes of the novel, I cannot deny how much I enjoyed the story and the people in it. The action scenes were tense and detailed, the characters were diverse and captivating and the flashback technique was handled seamlessly. If the writing style is slightly objective and removed from the emotions of the characters, the intensity of the situations they are placed in creates great empathy for them in a different way.
Highly recommended for the more aware Young Adult reader, and the thoughtful person interested in great writing.
(5 / 5)