iBoy (by Kevin Brooks)

7 05 2011

The only other Kevin Brooks novel the cat had read before picking up iBoy, was Being. The cat remembers reading a fairly generic adventure novel. Good enough, but not special enough to leave a lasting impression. iBoy is supposed to be Brooks grand tour de force, asking some of the most existential contemporary questions of the iPod generation, but to be honest, it has basically the same elements and definitely the same vibe all over it. I guess the mix between gritty reality and super high tech sci-fi is Kevin Brooks’ signature style of writing.  Not really a problem…not at all, give the cat some superhero mutant story and she’ll run along with it. The questions raised in iBoy are also interesting enough to keep you going.

Tom Harvey is a 16-year-old who grows up in a London tower block estate , trying to keep a clean nose amidst the arbitrary violence and the atmosphere of fear created by gang-related incidents. One day he gets hit by an iPhone and soon he discover he has some strange powers. Basically, he can do anything an iPhone can, courtesy of the iPhone fusing with parts of his brain.

In the book we gradually get the same overdose of information about all sorts of things as today’s Facebook kids get, much like when you google something. The overload of information doesn’t so much confuse Tom as it excites him to become some sort of vigilante superhero…iBoy, whose main purpose it is to avenge the gangrape of his friend Lucy. Murder, gangs, rape…it all happens in London, we don’t need to make life any nicer than it is . This stuff happens.  Kevin Brooks doesn’t sugarcoat things, and that’s all fine and dandy.

Even more, he asks questions. Issues and topics aplenty here. With great powers comes great responsibility is not a hollow phrase for main character Tom or for author Kevin Brooks. The importance of personal freedom; the boundaries of privacy; the overload of sensory information in an over-technologized world; the moral dilemma of justice versus vengeance… we get it all.

Though the book is incredibly fast-paced and touches all the necessary buttons, I can’t but feel that something is missing. I don’t know what exactly but I miss a certain oomph in Kevin Brooks’ writing. For example, despite the fact that the blurb claims that Tom’s powers are also his curse and despite the fact that Tom says he feels that the powers take over his personality, I don’t feel this in the course of the book… OK, except for the all of 20 or 30 pages where Kevin Brooks cleverly changes Tom’s first person narrative to the 3rd person… all this to show that iBoy is taking over from Tom Harvey… But, as a reader, I don’t buy it…not really. It takes more than 30 pages to convince me of that.

Kevin Brooks asks some really important questions, but in a way, he doesn’t really let all his characters find out the answers to these questions. I was moderately happy with the main character, Tom (in the end he finds out what the right balance is between Tom Harvey and iBoy), but I felt Lucy especially was written in to serve no other purpose than to be the nice little girl who goes along with whatever the main hero says or does. She doesn’t seem to ask the same questions despite what she has been through…  Especially because of what she has been through, she should not take things at face value the way she does now. Also, the bad guys are incredibly cliché bad guy… Cartoonishly so. But I guess with all the Spiderman references, that might have been intentional.

Anyways…just like Being, the cat feels iBoy is good enough. It’s a good adventure story, it has a bit of sci fi, it has a bit of a romance going on there too. It’s fast, it’s not overly difficult, so even reluctant teens will gladly read this, and it raises some important questions…oh well, maybe the cat’s just being picky here.

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