These are bad boys, bred bad, brought up to badness, on a mission to kill. But they are still teenagers and their deprivations show at every moment. You can't help liking East and dreading the likely outcome of his criminal behaviour.
And then there are moments when the plot twists and you walk, unsuspecting, into an ambush.
Brilliantly plotted, with great characters, great dialogue and moments of lyricism. For example:
- “Michael laughed almost every time he talked. It wasn't that he thought everything was funny; it was like his sentence wasn't finished yet without it.” (p 47)
- “All East’s life the mountains had been a jagged base for the northern sky. ... He’d never seen them broken into what they were, single peaks dotted with plants scrub and rock litter, and the open distances between.” (p 66)
- “Wandering blind, their shadows spilling out in eight directions.” (p 71)
- “The windshield filled with sunrise working its way up to blue.” (p 92)
- “He could sense something about the chasm, all the time piled up there. Close to forever. more time than he had in a hundred lives like his.” (p 96)
- “Ty belonged to nobody now, an unknowable child, indolent as bees in autumn” (p 99)
- “A thunderstorm hovered, prowling its own road.” (p 101)
- “Trying to press his gut out like a toothpaste tube.” (p 102) This is when East is sitting in the toilet, constipated. The physicality of this book is tremendously honest. When he is beaten up it hurts.
- “Gym muscles down his belly like puppies in a litter.” (p 107)
- “But do they get a signal out here? Negative bars.” (p 157)
- “Flight, they called it. One part fear, one part the blindest excitement you’d ever known. It freed you from time, from who you were or the matter of what you’d done. You darted, like a fish away from a net, like a dog outrunning a dogcatcher.” (p 206)
- “If there were such a thing as far enough, it wasn't a place you could walk to.” (p 249)
What to compare it to? It has won awards from crime and thriller writing but it isn't really in that genre. In some ways it is a novel about a troubled teenager growing up so it is a sort of Catcher in the Rye. The road trip reminded me of the road trip in John Green's Paper Towns. But the element of honesty about a boy trying to survive in a world with a different system of morality puts it into a class of its own.