Book Title: Boy Nobody (The Unknown Assassin, #01)
Author: Allen Zadoff
Number of pages: 340
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 a 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, moving on to the next target.
But when he’s assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter is unlike anyone he has encountered before; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching. Because somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and parents; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s mission.
(re: Goodreads @ Boy Nobody – Allen Zadoff)
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:
— If you’re on a book slump and enjoy spy-espionage YA-thrillers, then this book should help you get over that hurdle. It basically feels like a young adult Jason Bourne series
— The pacing is incredibly gripping, action-oriented, and delivers succinct chapters. It follows a first person perspective of a sociopathic assassin featuring modern tech in social media and handheld gaming
— There is diversity in this book but it can feel like it panders to terrorist propaganda without making any waves to change the way of thinking
— Character development is a hit-and-miss. Instalove/lust propels various plot points which is both surprising and predictable given reader skepticism
— Rating: 3.25/5
With Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS, iZombie, Stalker, The Blacklist and perhaps every other rehashed crime television show; I should really become a profiler. Or at least reincarnate into someone who has aspirations for preventative crime.
Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.
When you watch enough crime television, revelations don’t feel the same once you’ve put on that skeptical-hat even if wearing such ridiculous apparel is necessary in mystery-suspense novels. The biggest comparison I can make for Zadoff’s Boy Nobody is that it’s akin to a young-adult Jason Bourne. It has all the elements fit for the iconic franchise: various aliases, a toolkit of mental and physical prowess, a [generally] grievous past with memory loss, identity crises to drive change, etc.
That being said, it is no Jason Bourne.
Mission after mission, the enigmatic Boy Nobody (alias: Benjamin, Zach) receives orders from The Program and assimilates himself into the targets inner circle. There he will wait; gathering intelligence, building camaraderie, and lying dormant until the opportunity is presented—the chance at assassination. Missions span long periods—months even—only this time, the timeline is five days. This new high-profile target forces Boy Nobody to stray away from his path of anonymity and it is in the dark secrets of the prestigious New York lifestyle where his past unravels into his present.
Boy Nobody is an incredibly gripping read for its on-point pacing. I shit you not; Zadoff must be a wizard at captivating readers and keeping them on their toes. The phrasing and language of writing is prosaic; punctuated by its purposeful rush of shortness that fits the high-octane lifestyle of the narrative.
From the dialogue between his “friends” and how he described the nuance in his environment, there is syncopation to the mission-critical writing. It felt in line with “do this, then this, follow up with this”—structured and purposeful—with no moments for genuine reflection (though this changes as the story progresses). This isn’t to say that it made the narrative predictable (even if it was at times) but rather emphasized his robotic and sociopathic tendencies. Moreover, his internalized struggles to rationally engage conflicts juxtaposed against his emotionally mute demeanor is one that really highlights a subset of the male voice.
With every spy-thriller comes a world of gadgets making the contemporary setting that much more appealing. Explosions and firefights are cool but the scariest (and most interesting) tools are those ordinary things within arm’s reach. Zadoff remains truthful to the genre by not burdening the read with unrealistic knick knacks. Instead, he incorporates youthful technologies; ranging from social media and mobile games, and subtly allows these items to speak for itself and the changing dynamics of today’s society. The finesse in how these techs enable Boy Nobody to communicate with the secret organisation is among the best aspect in this series.
The highest compliment is that Boy Nobody is what it tries to sell without complicating anything.
If there’s one thing that really ticked me off about this book it’s that Boy Nobody had this nonsensical ability to feel his surroundings where he could foresee actions before they happened; as if everything was in slow-motion for his senses to digest. At this point, I’m surprised there wasn’t a passage in there to inform readers that he could sense what his target had for lunch three nights ago. That’s how absurd it is. He hasn’t even been at this for 4 years and he’s essentially portrayed as the shit. Um…Bryan Mills (Taken) and Jason Bourne (Bourne) would like a word with you.
You can take for granted his nondescript training at the illusive Program, fine. But it suspends belief when he’s able to channel his voodoo magic (without actual magic) to project himself into the atmosphere giving him a bird’s eye view of everything around him; including places he’s never been before. This is perhaps the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free-card as it doesn’t force him to deal with consequential conflict and forces readers to acknowledge that even if he’s in the direst of situations, this specialness will help him succeed. Ugh, no.
The diversity in this book is a double-edged sword. For one, it speaks to the cultural mosaic (or perhaps melting pot) in New York as a state, but it also panders to terrorist propaganda without intending to do so. As I read on, it basically takes those of Middle Eastern descent at face value that they’ll live by bad intentions (or are associated with individuals who do). I can understand the undertone of what this was trying to say but the implication this has over much needed diversity in young-adult books could have been explored. It doesn’t help that there are inherently “good” individuals who are of this background when it’s shrouded by all the negatives in the ones who are actually bad.
The gradual shift towards sentimentalism and self-awareness was well-developed in fleshing out Boy Nobody’s character. It begins early with a sense of coldness but warms up to the point where you do sympathize with what he’s going through. The moral integrity of what he encounters—inside and out—is far from sunshine and rainbows. He isn’t a character you’re supposed to like for the sake of having someone to root for; he’s a methodical killer who’s doing his job and you just accept that. This instalment introduces moral dilemmas without cause for redemption and that’s fine because it isn’t the focus. I’m sure it’ll be explored in the sequel.
His relationship with Samara is a bit of a doozy for me. I understand the expedited timeline to get closer to the target but the fact that instalove (lust?) was what reinforced the expositive learning curve is difficult to digest (re: why in all of four years, it was coincidentally this girl). Not only that, but given Samara’s skeptical nature, the writing dilutes strong character under the influence of an instalove. It is in this that makes this instalment wobbly.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff is a quick read that does well in hiding its flaws through hammering out continual action. The precision in writing is there but isn’t quite supported in development for my taste. That being said, it does its job in introducing moral triggers and provides much needed intrigue into the history of the assassins created by The Program. I’ll probably check out the next instalment for reasons of wanting to know more about this miniature Jason Bourne—errr, rather—Boy Nobody.