Book: Boy Nobody
Author: Allen Zadoff
Age Range: 12 and up
Boy Nobody is a tense thriller about a 16-year-old boy who has been trained as an assassin. The first person narrator (we don't learn his real name until late in the book, but let's call him Benjamin) was kidnapped by a shadowy organization, apparently part of the government, after a boy named Mike killed Benjamin's parents. Benjamin was trained to execute meticulously planned missions. For each mission, he is inserted into a school, where he befriends some key student. His target is someone close to that student, such as a parent. His job is to kill the target.
Benjamin has a distinct voice. Not knowing much about the premise of the book, I thought at first that he was supposed to be some sort of alien. He calculates his every move and reaction. Like the scene below, in which a bunch of kids are hanging around after a baseball game.
""Your best kicks ass and takes names," Jack says, and he punches my shoulder again.
This time the big man doesn't move. But the other players are looking at us.
Two punches on the arm. A way of asserting dominance.
Dominance is a threat. It must be dealt with.
I run a checklist in my mind:
I can let him punch me. Choose a lower status.
I can retaliate in equal measure, with equal force.
I can escalate. Assert my dominance.
Which should I choose?" (Chapter: I Pick Up a Baseball Bat)
He's like a human computer, the ultimate, unquestioning tool for killing people. But when the next student that Benjamin is supposed to befriend turns out to be the smart, extremely attractive daughter of the mayor of New York City, things become a bit more complicated than usual. Like this:
"Because my mind is thinking the wrong things. I should be thinking about finishing my assignment, but I'm thinking about the curve of Sam's neck, the corner of her lip, the way her breasts swell against the fabric of her dress." (Chapter: I Slip into the Bathroom down the Hall)
There is certainly violence in Boy Nobody, though I didn't find it gratuitous. (I mean, the book is about an assassin. The fact that he kills a few people should not be surprising.) There's a hint of a James Bond feel to the violence, and to the couple of sexual incidents (which are not described in detail).
The teen assassin is an interesting premise for a young adult novel. Kind of takes teen alienation to a new and toxic level. Imagine having to go into school after school, reinventing yourself each time, figuring out the social dynamics on the fly? Now imagine doing that with no parents behind you (just two controllers who communicate via technology), and no one to confide in. Even if he didn't have to kill people, Benjamin would still be about as alienated as it gets.
Boy Nobody is fast-paced, with lots of short paragraphs leaving white space in the text, and plenty of action to move the plot forward. Benjamin is a unique character, his damaged mind revealed through is first person narration (and his actions). Sam is also surprising and intriguing. And a nerdy computer geek comes into Benjamin's sphere, adding a bit of humor and humanity.
While the main plot in Boy Nobody wraps up neatly, quite a few details are left unexplained. I don't know whether or not Zadoff intends to write other books about Benjamin, but he has certainly put the elements of a bigger picture in place. Personally, I hope that there are more books - I'm interested to see where this story goes. In the meantime, I recommend Boy Nobody for teen and adult readers who enjoy thrillers, and aren't put off by the idea of reading one told from the assassin's perspective. Boy Nobody is well worth a look!
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids)
Publication Date: June 11, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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