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A junior Irish terrorist is sent on a peace-promoting exchange trip to Milwaukee. It’s not a good idea.

Wil Carson is a nasty little thing, but he's the narrator, so you've got to learn to live with his eccentricities. These include a love for weapons of all kinds, a marked lack of squeamishness around violence, and a rabid hatred of all things Catholic. At age 14, Wil is already an up-and-coming member of Ulster Freedom Fighters, a Protestant terrorist group in Belfast. He’s chosen to take part in an exchange program that sends disadvantaged Protestant and Catholic kids to live with families in the American Midwest, in the hope of fostering togetherness and understanding. This ideal starts to go to pot right away on the plane over, when Wil gets into it with a couple of “Taigs” (Catholic boys). Seething resentment smolders in his cynical breast even after he arrives in the comparatively bucolic suburbs of Milwaukee. There, in the home of a distant and somewhat frightening preacher, his dotty wife, and their teenaged son Derry, Wil is allowed to soak himself in the lazy luxuries of 1980s American suburbia. Unable to keep the lid on his Taig-hating ways, however, he soon indoctrinates rage-prone Derry with his views. It doesn't take more than a couple run-ins with other Ulster lads for the usual bored teenage high-jinks to turn extremely ugly. The Belfast-born author, who came to Milwaukee himself in a real-life exchange program, convincingly models the story on his own experiences. There's a potent frisson between the silky cadences of Wil's criminal blarney and the dull-witted characters who surround him. But even with the story’s abundance of dark wit, the violent climax is much too predictable.

Newcomer Kerr shows off his considerable talents to good effect here, though the story isn’t much more than a rehash of The Butcher Boy mixed with a little Clockwork Orange.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7868-6798-1
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2002