In this YA novel, an orphaned high schooler develops fantastical abilities that put those around him at risk.
What father, upon discovering that a child molester has hold of his child, wouldn’t fly into a murderous rage? Seven-year-old Robert Lawson’s father does exactly that; but instead of being hailed as a hero, he’s made the victim of a crusading district attorney who manages, unrealistically, to get the man convicted of first-degree murder. The sleepy town of North Fork, Calif.—which boasts one grocery store and one elementary school teacher—constructs a special detention center with an execution room, apparently just for this one man. Most implausibly, the imprisonment, trial and death by injection all take place within about nine months. Soon, Robert’s mother dies of cancer, and he’s sent to a grim residential care complex, then finally to a foster mother. Even though Robert never leaves North Fork, and his father’s execution (which Robert witnessed) must be the biggest news the town has ever seen, he forgets how his father died and no one reminds him. By high school, things are looking up for Robert: Some would-be bullies back off in great pain after trying to threaten him, he makes a friend and he even has a girlfriend. But then everyone in his school except him becomes deathly ill. The small-town mayor, who wields an unlikely amount of power, has Robert whisked away without due process to a prisonlike hospital. There, based on the theory that he caused the illnesses, he’s interrogated, kept under guard in solitary confinement without books, Internet or visitors, and subjected to vague, painful tests. Robert decides he must run away, if only to protect people from himself. In the wilderness, he makes an important animal friend and learns more about himself, his abilities and how to control them, setting the stage for the next volume in a planned series. In his debut, Ramirez is at his best in scenes between Robert and his best friend, Henry; their dialogue is lively and natural, and Robert comes to life in ways he doesn’t otherwise in the book. Beyond that, very little in the book feels natural, with many events straining credulity. Robert’s reactions are mostly flat and remote, even when events are at their strangest and saddest. Instead of building up the suspense, the pacing lags, while several continuity errors—like a 7-year-old doing eighth-grade homework—also get in the way. The last chapter leaves hope that the next entry in this series, when Robert finally harnesses his abilities, will be more satisfying.
Bogged down by a disconnected main character and overwhelming implausibility.