What if I told you that I just read a great book about a teenaged boy named Ariel? Ariel lives in an unnamed, war-torn country, and has just turned 14. On his 14th birthday, tragedy strikes, and Ariel finds himself the sole survivor in his village. Wouldn’t his tale about his travels with soldiers and regular families, about the horrors of the refuge camp, and about his new, adoptive family in West Virginia sound like something you might want to read?
Or how about if I said that I just read a great book about a strange summer camp for boys in rural West Virginia? A camp where each cabin is named for a planet, and all of the boys are there because they are addicted to being online…except for three boys in the Jupiter cabin, who happen to be there because their fathers work at the company that sponsors the camp.
Or what about a book about a failed journey to the North Pole in the late 1800s? Written in journal entry, we get the first-hand account of a ship trapped in ice, and how its crew and passengers manage the bleak and freezing environment, and an amazing discovery that they make in the ice.
Not for you? How about a book about a company that plays God, constantly tweaking both human and animal DNA? Bringing extinct animals back into the world, albeit with some strange characteristics, including a previously unseen ancient species of man. And what if that company could control these creatures with a simple remote control, and somehow turn some of these de-extinct animals into weapons of mass destruction? Would that interest you?
Hmm. What if I told you about a book about a crazy young man — dubbed The Melting Man, because his body parts are literally melting off of his body — is driving across the country in a U-Haul with an enormous bomb in the back? He hears voices in his head: a nice lady who narrates his every move, a beautiful woman who plays the accordion for him, and Joseph Stalin. Did I mention that he’s dying of radiation poisoning? How about that?
Believe it or not, The Alex Crow is about every single one of these things. At the same time. And it’s terrific. I went into it knowing nothing, and was hooked half-way through the prologue. I kept thinking “what in the hell is happening right now?”, but in a good way.
You may remember that I’ve previously dubbed Andrew Smith my Cannonball boyfriend. After the brilliance of Grasshopper Jungle and Winger, I knew I would follow him anywhere. And he does not disappoint here.
The writing is funny and outrageous and sad and frightening and real. Ariel’s backstory is heartbreaking and terrible, and his new life is strange and bizarre. The book is filled with amazing characters — the hairy legged kid, Alex the crow, the Dumpling Man, Cobie & Max, Marshmallow Jeff — that are so unlike any other people being described in YA today.
If you are looking for something completely unlike anything else out there right now, I highly recommend The Alex Crow. Smith has a new book coming out this fall — the sequel to Winger! — and the movie version of Grasshopper Jungle (directed by Edgar F-ing Wright) is in production. I expect we’ll be hearing more great things from him soon.