Thursday, October 14, 2010
Debut Review: Violence 101
I'm really not sure how to feel about this book. I don't exactly like it, but I don't dislike it either. The story is set in New Zealand and follows Hamish Graham, a 14 year old boy who has been in school after school and has landed at Manukau New Horizons Boys' Home because, as he puts it, "sometimes I do very violent things." The first half of the book chronicles his arrival at New Horizons as well as his misdeeds in the past, while the second half of the novel follows him as he attempts to prove himself by climbing to the peak of a mountain. Parts of the novel are told from Hamish's point of view through journal entries, while the rest is in third person -- sometimes following him, sometimes the adults in charge of him.
It's an interesting novel, to say the least. Hamish is incredibly violent, bordering on sadistic, obsessed with military leaders of the past such as Alexander the Great. He's also amazingly intelligent, logical, and thinks he's sooo much better than the "stupid people" he's surrounded by. (Honestly, having read this book directly after finishing Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN, he reminds me a lot of a younger version of the Judge, which just freaks me out.) To say that I didn't like Hamish would be an understatement; he seems to embody many of the qualities I detest in people -- namely that he's incredibly arrogant and judgmental. His journal entries were in turns boring (the essays on his military heroes) and annoying. Though he definitely makes some real growth throughout the novel, especially in the last twenty pages or so, he was still the same ole Hamish at the end of it all. I'm pretty sure I was meant to come to understand him, and in some ways I did, but for the most part he seemed remarkably like a psychopath throughout the entirety of the book and I couldn't muster up sympathy for him.
Aside from the protagonist, there were some very interesting adult characters in the novel, most notably a coach named Toko who has come to teach at the boys' home for unknown reasons after leaving the army, and Trev, a character whose attitude towards Hamish is the most refreshing though he only gets a scene or two in the book.
The story is very interesting and compelling, especially in the first half of the novel as the staff at New Horizons struggles to find a way to deal with Hamish. Additionally, the topic of troubled boys is covered well, however I can't help but thinking (and hoping!) that Hamish is not a typical case. I would have much rather read about one of the other boys in the home -- possibly the selectively mute boy Noel, or Victor, the brute. It seemed to me that Hamish was undoubtably the least likable and least relatable character to write about, and the book suffered for this.
One of the most peculier things about this book is, having finished it, it doesn't seem like a YA novel to me. True, the protagonist is a teenager, but about half of the novel is focused on the adults in his life, there are no other important teen characters, and -- most importantly -- it reads like a case study of troubled teens. Not only is Hamish the sort of teen character who does not consider himself a teen, but the book itself is written as if the audience in mind is - specifically - adults interested in the topic of teen violence and delinquency. It's educational, but not as entertaining as it should be.