Review Blog

Jul 24 2015

The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

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Electric Monkey, 2015. ISBN 9781405273428
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. On cover: Warning: Contains explicit content. Themes: Refugees, Cloning. Genetics. Genetic engineering. 15 year old Ariel is a refugee from the Middle East. He had hidden in a refrigerator when his village was attacked and was the sole survivor. Now living in the US, he is sent with his adoptive brother Max to a camp for boys who are obsessed with tech. This is his story which is intertwined with that of a schizophrenic melting man who has bombs and survivors from an arctic expedition from the late 19th century who had brought home a strange devil like man who had been frozen in the ice. Weaving through this story is mention of the Alex crow a bird that has been brought back from extinction by Ariel's adoptive father's company.
This is a strange, compulsive and challenging story that I was unable to read in one sitting. It has major themes of refugees and genetic engineering and ethical considerations about scientific enquiry but it was Ariel's story that kept me engrossed. I had to come back to it time and again as I knew that I had to find out just what had happened to him after his village was destroyed. It is not a pleasant or escapist story but it has enough humour that will especially appeal to boys to lighten the tone and it is certainly one that stays with the reader.
The Alex Crow is not a story for the faint hearted. All the strands contain disturbing themes: the plight of refugees, abuse, murder and manipulation of family members by scientists interested only in their horrible experiments. There is frequent talk of masturbation and only two women feature in the story - Max's mother who is weird and Martha Nussbaum, the author of a tract, Male extinction, the case for an exclusively female species. The Alex Crow is a book that will challenge the reader to think about issues facing society today.
Andrew Smith is an award winning author (Grasshopper Jungle won 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards and was a Printz Honor 2015) and he certainly lives up to the comment written at the back of the book that careful is not his middle name.
Pat Pledger

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