384 pp. Tor. $17.95
Pub. Date: 3/3/2009
Reviewed by Paul Stotts
Roger Waters wrote in the classic Pink Floyd song Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2 the now famous lyrics:
We don’t need no education.
We don’t need no thought control.
Isamu Fukui seemingly agrees with these sentiments in his latest novel Truancy Origins, a book that stokes rebellion in the educational system, frees minds, and makes certain students aren’t just another brick in the wall. Or at least, it believes itself rebellious. But like most teenage rebellion, it’s a bit unconvincing. More posturing than substance. A remake of Rebel Without a Cause with Muppets playing the lead parts.
Still the book’s guaranteed to appeal to its intended audience, disinterested, rebellious teenagers. And the straight-A students who want to be disinterested, rebellious teenagers. Some kids don’t want to go to school—some even hate school—viewing it as some kind of exquisite torture devised by adults to punish them. (So close to the truth.) Going to school can appear to be a waste of time and inefficacious. Good for the social event, but not much else. An authoritarian system run by power-hungry fools, centered more on statistics than students. And these impressions are right. The educational system is broken—at the very worse needing a complete overhaul. It needs to be closely monitored and not followed blindly. Because when schools fail to educate, they’ve failed in their primary responsibility. And many schools fail to educate. The real question is who deserves the blame for this problem.
Twin brothers Zen and Umasi have grown up privileged. Silver spoons and Nintendo Wiis aplenty. Adopted by the Mayor of the City—a sort of neo-fascist educator—when they were six months old, Zen and Umasi have conflicting views on school. Umasi values education and gets good grades. Zen—incredibly smart but bored—despises the time he spends in school and acts out. Soon the brothers uncover the truth about the City’s educational system. A truth that shatters their world, causing them both to run away from home.
For Zen, the injustices within the City’s educational system are horrible. Evil, in fact. An evil that must be violently overthrown. Malcolm X style. And he strives to accomplish this, gathering an army of Truants to battle the City’s law enforcement. While Umasi harbors many of the same attitudes as his brother, violence is not his answer. It is not any kind of answer. So he stands against his brother. Against his twin. Vowing to stop Zen before it’s too late.
Truancy Origins is a book trying to be many things. There are the exciting action-oriented set pieces as the two brothers battle against each other, often described in highly visual, cinematic detail. These fights are well-done and engaging, and
And then there’s the other part of the book which strives to be a social commentary on education.
Zen and Umasi are both great characters, each possessing a real charisma. Umasi’s character arc throughout the novel, though, is less believable. His transformation from book nerd to uber-badass seems forced. Most of the minor characters are plot devices, their presence in the narrative only furthering other aspects of the story. The chief antagonist of the novel, Rothenberg, is one-dimensional to the point of caricature, only motivated by his extreme hatred of children. He’s over-the-top evil, displaying absolutely no redeeming qualities. No gray area, nothing of interest.
The dialogue is occasionally awkward and stilted. I couldn’t imagine teenagers speaking like this. Unless they watched a lot of BBC. It was too proper, less like spoken word and more like written word conversations. Like reading Middlemarch. But with kung-fu.
As a high-octane-kung-fu-science-fiction-multi-hyphenated-action extravaganza, Truancy Origins works. Really well. It’s only when the novel veers into the realm of social activism does it suffer, struggling to say something both substantive and relevant. Still Truancy Origins should resonate with its young adult audience, with its snarky, rebellious attitude towards authority and education. Like literary wish fulfillment for wanna-be rebels. A middle finger to the man. Graffiti on the Wall.
Final Grade: 74 out of 100
Young Adult Spotlight:"The Dangerous Days of Daniel X" by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge (Little Brown)
Young Adult Spotlight:"The Dangerous Alphabet" by Neil Gaiman and Gris Grimly (HarperCollins)