Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Review of Terror’s Identity, by Sarah Maury Swan

(published through Sable Books, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-9968036-3-2 (paperback)


Young audiences (YA) is a hot market. From Maze Runner to Hunger Games, Mortal Instruments to Divergent, stories that can hold interest, empower the reader, and provide a satisfying ending or intense cliffhanger are not only guaranteed to sell (and often secure a film deal) but they serve a much more important purpose: in the age of cyber-tech and video gaming (often the same thing), they keep traditional book-based storytelling alive.
Terror’s Identity, by Sarah Maury Swan, delivers the best of YA in all the right ways. From the very first page, the story of a sixteen-year-old boy’s navigation of a no-less-than life-threatening situation for him and his family kept me engaged and eager to find out what would happen next. The characters, both teenagers and adults, are believable in both their actions and dialogue, and the story itself is told with insistent pace and an elegant simplicity while the plot is rich, complex, and full of interesting clues and misdirection.
The main character, Aidan, is your typical high school kid—struggling to find his place, awkward with girls, into his pets and hot and cold with his family and keen to know about life. His father, however, works for an anti-terrorism unit—a situation that necessitates the family leaving their home in the middle of the night as the book opens as their house burns to the ground and their former life with it.
Have you ever been the new kid at school? Not an easy thing under the best of circumstances. Having started my first day of freshman year in a brand new town 2 hours from where I had grown up after a series of events that, although less dramatic than Aidan’s, were easily as traumatic, I immediately felt for him and his sister Maya as they tried to make the best of their thorny situation. Saying goodbye to the family pets, their father, and their names/identities all in the course of an action-packed night, Aidan (now Brent) and Maya (now Angie) struggle to fit in among queries about where they’ve come from by students and teachers, neither of which are always kind about it.
I particularly appreciated the trouble Aidan/Brent had keeping it all straight. From computer log-ins to lies about his father being dead to mistakes about the little details we don’t think about under normal circumstances, he finds himself almost outing the truth of his situation numerous times. This makes sense, given that teenagers are, by nature, curious about new people who come into their lives and there is nothing that takes more energy and focus than being consistent in your secrets and lies.
Another strength of Terror’s Identity is that Swan has approached Terrorism (a word that has always been a battleground of definition among scholars) with all the complexity that it deserves, which serves the story by keeping the reader guessing about who the true terrorists are—what should be safe harbors often are not and those we are conditioned to distrust turn out to be more like us than we know—and also sends a much needed message to young readers that nothing should be taken at face value when it comes to terrorism, whether it be religious, economic, or political. I also appreciated that the terrorists were so full of their own self-righteousness that they made plenty of mistakes along the way.
Structurally, the book has everything one would expect for the target audience and genre—short chapters that are briskly paced; a mid-point complication that sets up an even brisker pace toward the climax; and an accessibility of language and syntax. There are effective emotional moments and the books dwells on relationships without becoming saccharine.
I recommend this book for early teen to mid-teen reading groups in libraries and classrooms. According to the acknowledgments, the first eight chapters were critiqued by a class of students during the development process, which shows the author’s commitment to being authentic as possible without being a modern-world teenager herself.





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