This book, which reminded me somewhat of Every Day by David Levithan, was originally called Boy Nobody. It has been made into a series and optioned for a movie, receiving a name change in the bargain.
The story is about a 16-year-old boy (whose actual name, we eventually learn, is Zach) who goes from school to school with a new identity each time, just long enough to complete his assignment for “The Program,” a mysterious CIA-like assassin organization. Zach’s mission is to befriend a peer who is the child of the “target,” thereby getting access to target’s house. He then surreptitiously kills this target, who is allegedly involved in spying for another country. He excels at his “job”:
“That’s my speciality. People die around me, but it never seems like my fault. It seems like bad luck following good. Good luck: You meet a great new friend at school. Bad luck: A tragedy befalls your family. The two don’t ever seem connected, but they are.”
Soon thereafter, Zach says his parents have to move, and he receives a new mandate.
“The Program, the organization I work for, says I am a patriot, but patriots have a choice. I do not.”
He was forcibly taken into this service when he was twelve, apparently because of some mysterious involvement of his father. Zach assumes his parents are dead. He was assigned to a new “Mother” and “Father” – “Mother” is the woman in charge, and “Father” handles the specifics of his assignments. Mother and Father seem to have limitless resources and operational intelligence.
Zach obeys without question, until this latest mission, which involves Samara (“Sam”) Goldberg, daughter of Mayor Goldberg, who is the target. Zach only has five days this time to complete the transaction, but it is long enough for him to develop feelings for Sam and even for the mayor. This new and unexpected complication puts all of them in danger. Yet, like the protagonist in Every Day, Zach feels he has no other options:
“What is the lesson? Survive. No matter what happens to you, no matter the circumstances, no matter what life tosses at you – the losses, the pain.”
Discussion: This is a first-person narrative by Zach, which means that we don’t know much about his interior life because he refuses to confront it himself: we only know that he is driven by fear and compulsion and a sense of loss so overwhelming that he chooses robotic compliance rather than facing his pain.
The extent to which the gray world of the Program and its enemies are able to keep tabs on this unlikely teenaged assassin did not seem that credible to me, especially in light of all the precautions taken to mask his identity, intentions, and movements. As far as I know, it is not a paranormal series, but one almost gets the impression Zach has an implanted chip readable by both friends and foes. That’s the only way I could make sense of the ease with which he is repeatedly tracked.
Evaluation: This is an entertaining story with lots of suspense and good pacing. It’s getting a lot of good press, and except for my skepticism over how unrealistic some of it is, I would have rated it a bit higher.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a member of Hachette Book Group, 2014