BOOK REVIEW: Boy 23 by Jim Carrington
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Boy 23, or Jesper, has never seen another person before. His whole life has been spent in a controlled environment. His meals arrive on trays, The Voice gives him educational tasks to complete, and as a reward he gets to watch things on The Screen.
Then, blindfolded, abducted and abandoned in a forest, Boy 23 is told to run as far as he can and fight for his life. But who is he? Why do people want him dead? And more to the point, who is The Voice, and why does he want to save him?
The room lurches. Everything swirls, nothing staying still. I close my eyes to try to stop it moving, but that doesn’t work, does it? The whole world spins. And my thoughts spin with it and I’m thinking about the tray and that it needs to be picked up, and how my hands feel strange, like my fingers are too big and too sensitive. And the walls – I’m suddenly thinking about how they’re white and I’m wondering if they were always white or did they used to be grey, and I’m wondering who changed them if they did.
Boy 23 presented an interesting premise; a boy raised away from people, suddenly thrust out into the world to fend for himself. He has no experience of what is normal, so he doesn’t realise that he heals unnaturally fast, or that the language he speaks isn’t the only language that exists, until he finds himself around people who communicate in sounds he doesn’t understand, and he’s the odd one out.
There was a virus many years ago that wiped out the majority of the population, and there are rumours of a new strain. There’s a religion-centric children’s home, and priests with questionable motives. There’s a corporation that wants to stop anyone from finding out that Jesper exists. And there are conspiracy theories.
It had the potential to be great, but it got stuck somewhere along the way, in between middle grade and young adult.
The writing is very simplistic and not exactly compelling, which is something you can get away with more in middle grade with younger kids not being as critical of the elements. But when you start to get into young adult territory, you need to have properly developed characters, less clunky dialogue, more originality, and more compulsion to read on. And this book didn’t.
In fact, with the lack of information as to the age of the characters, this could be mistaken for a middle grade title from the younger end of the spectrum… Until you find out they’re in their late teens… Until you get to the mentions of rape, and people being shot and stabbed.
Perhaps in an attempt to make the reader relate to Jesper more, or maybe to show him as different right from the start, the author gave Jesper a few quirks within his understanding of the English language.
He doesn’t look, or stare, or spy; but is often caught squizzing, gawping, and prying – and rather than walking or running, he yomps. He also constantly brings the reader close the the fourth wall with his rhetorical questions.
I close my eyes to try to stop it moving, but that doesn’t work, does it?
Cos that’s them dying, isn’t it?
But I walk on, don’t I?
Which is strange, isn’t it?
Those things can work quite well when paired with good writing and a good story, as evidenced in Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, but in this instance it felt more like a cheap attempt to provide some sort of personality for the character and… it didn’t really work. Especially as the rest of the narration was rather bland and rigid, which just made these quirks stand out like a sore thumb, and highlighted the blandness of everything else.
There was also no clear passage of time, with the narrative jumping from one character’s point of view to another and no clear separation of chapters. Things often seemed to happen instantaneously where time would need to have passed for the sequence to work properly, and on the flip side, what felt like days within in the story turns out to be mere hours.
All in all this was a very uneven story in terms of pace, age appropriateness, and character development, and it all wrapped up in a big conclusion that wasn’t. Very few questions were answered, and those answers that were given were only half of the story, but this doesn’t feel like it has enough in it to warrant another book.
Heck, I was contemplating putting it down from about 40% in, and I had been so excited to read it.
Perhaps it was the setting, as most of the author’s other titles seem to be more based in the real-world than this one was, and I may give him another shot in the future, but I’m not rushing out to get my hands on his other books.
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