This has been on my reading list since it was released last year. I read the first chapter in the library shortly after it came out, and I read snippets in a brightly lit and cheerful book store. You see, I was afraid to read it. It’s described as “dark,” and I didn’t believe that was a reference to the mostly-black cover. I figured it had more to do with the fact that the black cover is a body bag–with a kid in it! Yeek!
I don’t do scary. At all. Remember, according to my reading tastes, horror = brussel(s) sprouts, and scary on any level = horror.
“So why was this book on your reading list in the first place?” you ask, being ever so logical.
Because Michael Northrop edited my puzzles at Sports Illustrated for Kids for a number of years, and I like him. I appreciate most editors, but he was one of the really good ones. For instance, if he ever lost the answer page to a puzzle I submitted, I’d be willing to bet he would not have written to ask me to re-send it; he would have solved the ding-dong puzzle.
“Wouldn’t all editors do that, especially if it’s a puzzle for kids?”
Um…no. Apparently not.
Michael is smart, on the ball, and funny, and he even laughed at my jokes. He chose my best puzzles and made them better. So of course I wanted to read his debut novel. That he would write something dark was a bit of a puzzle to me, and you know I can’t resist a puzzle.
So I finally brought the book into the house, but I kept it in the darn good room to be read during the light of day, rather than reading it in the sleeping cave before bed. If it got too scary or suspenseful, I’d jump ahead to the end to see how it all came out.
I didn’t skip ahead.
The story is about four unmotivated, underachieving, high school ne’er-do-wells, their friendship and hardships, and what happens when one disappears.
I think these kinds of characters are under-represented in YA lit, perhaps because kids who would relate to these characters, see themselves in them, aren’t generally big readers. I know these kids; I worked with 15- to 17-year-old boys in a juvenile detention center and with “at-risk” kids at camp. I’d say Michael nails the voices and attitudes, motivations (or lack of) and perceptions. The drama feels real, not overdone.
What I liked best was that I was surprised by several events and outcomes. They all make perfect sense, but I didn’t anticipate them. The book I’m finishing tonight is a pleasant read, but predictable. Gentlemen kept me guessing.
I won’t call it scary.
And I won’t be afraid of Michael’s next book, Trapped (Feb. 2011), in spite of the second image in his description of the story here. It’s about kids stuck in a high school without electricity or heat during a blizzard. Pfft. I know I can handle that.