In Andrew Smith‘s “The Alex Crow”Ariel is a refugee, a fifteen year-old boy who can’t seem to find his place in the world, no matter how many lives he lives. When his village in the Middle East is bombed, Ariel is collected by soldiers who take care of him – until their convoy is bombed. Then Ariel tags along with a family escaping the wreckage of their town. They part ways at a UN refugee camp – the tent city where Ariel goes through the hardest nine months of his life. And from there, he comes out on the other side reborn, like a phoenix, taken to America to live with a foster family. There Ariel meets his new brother, Max, who is only sixteen days older than Ariel.
And that’s where things gets weird.
Max’s parents, and now Ariel’s too, are part of the Alex Division of the Merrie-Seymour Research Group, where a lot of unbelievable things happen. It’s where the family got their previously extinct pet crow, named Alex. The MSRG funds a camp for boys, where Ariel and Max are sent to stay for 6 weeks, supposedly to bond and become better brothers. The Merrie-Seymour Camp for Boys is basically a completely crazy place where introverted boys are tortured in a variety of interesting ways and examined thoroughly, in the name of (secret) research. There they meet Cobie, who is the only other somewhat sane kid at the camp.
Meanwhile, a man named Lenny, who may or may not have a chip in his head and a truck full of mercury and bombs, drives across the south on a collision course for the Merrie-Seymour Camp for Boys.
Will Max, Ariel, and Cobie survive their time at the Camp? Well, you’ll have to read to find out.
What I loved: The way humanity is never in control of anything. Smith really makes the reader take a good, hard look at the world and just how little control people have over it.
We try and try to be in control – of ourselves, our families, war and peace, the environment, our health – but ultimately the universe is it’s own force and we will succumb to it. Smith’s stories are often about boys who are thrown into an uncontrollable (or unstoppable) situation. Then they have to cope with it, they have to survive and come out on the other side, hopefully stronger than before.
The boys make it out of this story stronger because they form connections and bond over their time at the Camp. They go through a lot of tough things together, and I liked seeing Max, Ariel, and Cobie let their walls down a little in order to let each other in.
What I wanted more of: Character development and depth. I was a little disappointed by my lack of attachment to the boys. I felt for Ariel, I laughed at Max, and I was curious about Cobie – but that’s it. They weren’t complex characters, and they didn’t make me feel very much. I didn’t connect to them in the way I normally to the characters in Smith’s books.
The verdict: An original and creative look at what happens to the ones we love when we can’t help but try to control them, THE ALEX CROW is another weird, humorous, and slightly disturbing novel from groundbreaking YA author, Andrew Smith.