Author: Allen Zadoff
Release date: May 23rd 2013
Paperback, 368 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Source: Publisher for review
Pre-order: The Book Depository
Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die -- of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target.When his own parents died of not-so-natural causes at the age of eleven, Boy Nobody found himself under the control of The Program, a shadowy government organization that uses brainwashed kids as counter-espionage operatives. But somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the boy he once was, the boy who wants normal things (like a real home, his parents back), a boy who wants out. And he just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's next mission.
Here’s a fair warning for you guys: don’t start reading Boy Nobody just before bedtime, especially if you have something important to do the next day. It will not end well, learn from my mistake. I thought I’d just read a few chapters and go to sleep, but somehow I ended up with a can of Red Bull at three in the morning, desperate to keep myself awake long enough to finish that last part.
Zadoff was very careful not to reveal our protagonist’s name for most of the book, giving him an alias only when the narrative would have suffered otherwise, and always emphasizing the fact that his name, or anything else about him, doesn’t matter. His alias, Benjamin, was also used sparingly in the attempt to make him seem less like a person, and more like a well-oiled machine, completely stripped of personality, a weapon you aim at any given target and wait for it to go off. I'm happy to report that this attempt was very successful.
Our protagonist – I’ll call him Ben to avoid confusion although it’s not his real name - is emotionless, but not cruel; well-trained, but not bloodthirsty; competent, but not overly ambitious. The Program killed his parents and recruited him when he was no more than twelve, and his life has been just one mission after the other ever since. He has no friends, no family, just two bosses (or handlers) he calls Mother and Father.
While Ben’s story is undoubtedly sad and one can understand why he made some of his choices, make no mistake – he is a killer. He is no would-be assassin; he is an agent with six successful missions behind him. He is the new boy in school who will use his training and expertise to worm his way into your life, kill your parents at first available opportunity and then disappear forever.
Zadoff’s story seems to be Young Adult by accident, not by design, by which I mean that his protagonist’s age seems to be determined by the effect it has the story, and not the publishers or the market. This means that he didn’t pull any punches: the violence in Boy Nobody is not graphic, but it's constantly present. In many ways, this is a story better suited for older, more mature readers, although there's nothing to prevent me for recommending it to younger audience as well..
I loved that the author never tried to redeem his character. He never made excuses for him, never tried to turn him into something he’s not. In that, Boy Nobody is unlike any other YA book before it. Yes, Ben asks himself questions about morality, right and wrong, love and duty, but those questions aren’t the center of this story, nor is there some life-altering lesson hidden between the lines.
Let me put it this way: try to imagine Jason Bourne in his formative years. If you like what you come up with, it means you’ll probably like Boy Nobody as well. Just make sure to start reading when you know you have time to finish it in one sitting.