BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Coming up on Friday, an interview with Andrew Klavan himself! And we have a copy of Crazy Dangerous to give away!! Read on for details . . .
Nobody can ever say Andrew Klavan doesn’t know how to write an opening:
You see that dead guy by the side of the road? Yeah, the one lying in a pool of his own blood with his face all messed up and his clothes all torn and dirty. That’s me . . .
The narrator, 15-year-old Sam Hopkins, hastens to explain that he’s not dead, though he sure could pass for it at the moment, and that side-of-the-road predicament is not actually the stupidest thing he ever did. But by then the reader is hopelessly hooked and the pages will start turning almost as if they had a mind of their own. The thriller genre is Klavan’s stock-in-trade, and for thrills and chills his latest YA novel does not disappoint.
Sam Hopkins is basically a nice kid going through an awkward stage: bored with his small town, lonely since his best friend moved away, and tongue-tied around girls, especially the beautiful girl he would most like to know. Besides, he’s a Preacher’s Kid, and his mere presence seems to inflict niceness on his peers, as if they’re afraid to be themselves around him. One guy who’s not afraid is Jeff Winger, the local thug, and his thug pals. After a rough introduction, Sam becomes a kind of wingman to Winger, in the course of which he learns some slightly-illegal skills that will become useful later on.
The gang becomes too raw for Sam’s taste when they start hitting on a girl, particularly this girl: Jennifer Sales. We meet Jennifer very early in the narrative, and it’s a harrowing introduction. She is schizophrenic—most of the kids call it crazy—but perhaps a visionary also. Her visions are disturbing, if not downright satanic. As Sam gets to know her better he begins to wonder if she also has psychic powers, because it seems to him that some of the scenes she describes have a nasty way of coming true. On her part, Jennifer senses a compassionate soul in Sam and latches on to him as her “magic friend.” Both will need a friend, for she is seeing and hearing things that indicate a disaster of unimaginable proportions in the very near future.
I can’t say more than that, but the story speeds to a truly heart-pounding climax. Sam is a character like Charlie West, of the Homelanders series, in that he’s catapulted into a desperate situation that boils down to one person—himself—risking his life in order to avert certain disaster. Like Charlie, he is first equipped with some useful skills and an inspirational mantra: Do right. Fear nothing. The latter will keep him going when many another teen would have lost hope–even though he fears plenty (with good reason), and isn’t always sure what’s right.
His main challenge is to believe Jennifer, and in this he’s like any other Christian: called to believe the unbelievable. And act on it. His pastor father isn’t a lot of help here; though a good and sincere man, he’s distracted by the impending death of a dear friend and is perhaps too inclined to rationality. “The world is not a magical place, that’s all. The things that happen are pretty predictable, and they can usually be explained in ordinary terms.” Clearly opposed to Jennifer’s view, but after all, she’s sick. Or is she all that sick?
One problem I had with the basic plot is that I didn’t quite believe the villain, whose villainy needed more justification. However, I got a chance to ask the author about this, and you can read his reply on Friday. I like the way that questions are raised and not conclusively answered, which after all is how good fiction works (asking, not answering). They are good questions, such as
- Is there some sense in which the world is a “magical” place? How?
- There are natural explanations for Jennifer’s visions—but might there be supernatural ones also? Do you see other supernatural elements in the story?
- If you knew someone like Jennifer, how to do you think you would respond to her?
- Does this story shed any light on how God works in the world?
- Worldview/moral value: 5 (out of 5)
- Literary value: 4 (out of 5)
And now for the contest. All of Klavan’s YA books so far feature a desperate hero motivated by a choice saying. This Sunday is Father’s Day. What’s the connection, you ask? Just this: in the comments section, tell us one inspirational or memorable or just extremely helpful helpful word you’ve received from your father. Or grandfather. Or any other significant father-figure. Anyone can enter, from age 12 on up. Winner to be announced Friday, so don’t delay!
See our review of Andrew Klavan’s Homelanders series here. And for more book suggestions for teens, click the Book Review/YA tab and read on!