A debut YA novel blends Christianity, high school misfits, and classic spy thriller tropes.
Despite his efforts to fly under the radar to avoid bullies and teachers, Chris Short forges an unlikely friendship with Max Clever—the mysterious new student who can “outrun, outkick, and outmaneuver any kid in school.” Max tells Chris that his father recently died. Then Chris visits Max’s home, where he learns that his friend’s caretaker, Vicky, has left town. Deciding that he can trust Chris, whose “mother died of cancer three years ago,” Max reveals that he is more than capable of taking care of himself. His father was training this 15-year-old to be a superspy: Max speaks five languages, pilots planes, knows martial arts, and owns a supercomputer named Claire. Soon Max and Chris’ fishing trips turn into cross-country voyages to bring down an enigmatic terrorist organization called the Black Hand. The boys find themselves intercepting secret messages and dodging paid assassins in order to foil large-scale attacks while still making it back in time for class. Just as it seems things are getting out of control for Chris, Vicky returns with new truths about where Max came from and a dangerous new problem that involves Chris’ family and makes the Shorts question their beliefs. Greely drops his two teenage characters in setups pulled straight out of an Ian Fleming thriller, including ski lodges, missile silos, and high-tech training simulators. It’s a fun combination, but the more curious addition is a religious angle coming from Chris’ Christian faith. Spies and religion don’t often mix, and Chris’ attempt to convert an assassin on his deathbed and some seemingly preordained shared nightmares feel like elements out of a completely different story rather than intriguing character development. At the same time, the danger and urgency of the Black Hand fizzle somewhat disappointingly with a sudden shift toward Max’s past and a child trafficking subplot. But in this tale, both boys grapple with the loss of a parent, which makes them relatable and sympathetic between the fast-paced action sequences that should excite YA readers.
An intriguing genre mashup that struggles to successfully fuse its various parts but delivers some strong adrenaline rushes.