Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.
Thoughts: This isn’t the kind of book that would normally ping on my radar. While I’m not immune to more contemporary fiction than SFF, from the description alone I would think that this book would be packed full of testosterone-laden action scenes, gun fights and knife fights, with the protagonist being amazing at what he does but oh so tortured about it. I’d have given it a miss.
But I’d already read the Bookworm Blues review of this, under the title Boy Nobody, and what Sarah had to say intrigued me. So when the chance arose for me to read and review it, I wasn’t about to say no.
I Am the Weapon is written from the perspective of a child soldier whose true name we really don’t get to discover. He’s given a name for his mission, and another character from his past refers to him by a different name later on, but there’s nothing in the text to declare that even the second name is the one he grew up with. His parents were killed when he was 11, and from then on he was raised in The Program, educated physically and mentally to be a covert government operative, to get into sensitive situations only a child could be overlooked in and then carry out his orders for the good of the country. He is good at what he does. He is good at killing.
The protagonist’s voice is a great one to follow, and the story balances high action scenes with calmer dialogue-and-development scenes much better than I had originally expected. Fighting, when it happens, is done with short sentences, cold and analytical, which makes them more impressive than scenes with hot blood and emotion because you become very much aware of how little it actually gets to the protagonist. Kill, survive, move on. No witty jibes exchanged, just efficient work.
Sometimes it’s difficult to comment on events in a novel without comparing them to how they weren‘t done, but in the case of the protagonist’s more ‘mundane’ task of getting close to his target’s daughter, there really isn’t another way to explain how masterfully it was done. I half expected, from reading other YA novels, that he would position himself near Sam at all times, always be in her sights, pushing to get close to her and getting frustrated when she tells him to back off and stop being so creepy. (But of course, for plot-related reasons, she would eventually give in.) Instead, you see him rely on psychology and deception, staying in her sights but on the periphery, getting close to het by getting close to the people who know her, acting like a typical teen who wants to impress and get close to a girl but has no idea how to do it without making bumbling errors. He rolls with the punches, recovers from errors with style that goes unappreciated by anyone but the reader. It worked so well, not just because it was atypical but because it allowed for a greater insight into how his mind worked without relying on a long flashback sequence of his training, or a bunch of introspection.
However, when it comes to bumbling errors, I do have a bit of a beef with this story, and that is how the main character’s crush on Sam developed. Don’t get me wrong; crushes happen, feelings develop, and yes, sometimes they develop pretty quickly, especially when one person is manipulating the situation quite a bit. But it was the way that the protagonist is presented as the perfect undercover killer, unnoticed by most and overlooked as being a child, able to kill adults who have shown him nothing but kindness merely on the word of his bosses who say, “That guy over there, he’s a threat to national security.” He doesn’t flinch. But let a pretty and intelligent girl into the situation, and now he starts to regret, make errors, pause at the wrong moment and jeopardize his mission.
I get it. There wouldn’t have been much of a story had this not happened. Had he not paused at the wrong moment, the story would have ended within 50 pages, much of the truth of the situation would not have come to light, and the impact would have been lessened. But many of his hesitations seemed contrived for this purpose alone, seemed to go against what had been established about his character. There’s only so much, “He’s a sixteen year old boy” I can handwave as an explanation.
At least when push comes to shove, the hesitation is gone and he does what needs to be done. I will give him that.
One thing I love about how this book ended is the unaddressed revelation that while the main character has been told all this time that he’s been killing people who are directly a threat to US security, this isn’t always the case. The threat is there, yes, but if it’s deemed more efficient for him to kill an innocent, and that death with derail a threat, then that’s what he’ll do. The revelation comes near the very end of the book, and isn’t said in those words, and isn’t even dwelled upon, but it’s still strongly hinted at. I wonder if this is something that the protagonist is going to think harder upon in the sequel. It’s a hard-hitting realization, with many implications about past missions he’s been on, and I’d love to see how that will affect him, how it could destabilize him with more legitimate reasons than, “I like a pretty girl.”
Overall, I Am the Weapon was a fantastic YA novel, a dark and deep well of, “Holy crap, what else could happen?!” The tone is perfect, the story intriguing, and it ends in such a way as to make me very eager to get my hands on the sequel, I Am the Mission. Zadoff’s story of a covert child soldier plays wonderfully into modern politics, raises many thought-provoking questions, and was much more mature and handled better than I expected at the outset. Definitely impressive, and definitely a series I will continue with.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)