“Our limitations choose for us.”
Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn’t stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend’s family to die — of “natural causes.” Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target.
When his own parents died of not-so-natural causes at the age of eleven, Boy Nobody found himself under the control of The Program, a shadowy government organization that uses brainwashed kids as counter-espionage operatives. But somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the boy he once was, the boy who wants normal things (like a real home, his parents back), a boy who wants out. And he just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s next mission.
Boy Nobody has an interesting premise which piqued my interest and push me into reading the book. Once I started with it I was instantly pulled by the intriguing and unique voice of the character, which I’ll be calling ‘Nobody’ in this entire review. He actually has a name or more specifically names, since he changes his names every missions he handle and there’s also his real name, but I preferred calling him ‘Nobody’. I just don’t feel using his other names, even the one he use during the main mission in the story, it just feel not so him. It doesn’t suit him having a regular name.
Nobody, the main character kinda remind me of Artemis Fowl, the main character of Eoin Colfer‘s middle grade series which I loved. Technically these two books had less common factor since Artemis Fowl series is actually more a fantasy adventure, but there is something in Nobody’s voice that kinda remind me of the young boy genius, Artemis. Specifically the way they foresee things around them, they both keen to details and analyzing things/situations around them, making calculated steps precisely. Though Artemis got an upper hand since he is a genius after-all. Anyway, back to Nobody, as a character he is fascinating, I mean who wouldn’t be interested in checking an anonymous teenager assassin? Well, at least in fictional world, I’m not sure if it is safe to do that in real life.
So yeah, Nobody is an assassin, made and trained to be one at a young age by The Program. He doesn’t have much choice in the matter, for him it’s like, be part of The Program or die. Actually, he did make his choice and he chose to die, but he was still trained by The Program to be a killing machine. The Program sent Nobody a mission, they will give him the target, and the mark. He follows some protocol, usually he needs to befriend the mark in order to get to the target. He always complete his mission, he never failed. But there’s one mission that unusually different the the others, not only with its very short deadline but also with the other people in the playing field. This one mission may changed everything, one mission that can seed some doubt in his mind and maybe trigger something inside of him.
Allen Zadoff writing style perfectly fit the character background, it is succinct, and direct to the point. Nobody’s narration is very straight forward, no superfluous descriptions, or any flowery details, which in return carry so much male voice in it. Nobody’s story telling is more on facts than emotions which can easily put distance between readers and him, but surprisingly in my case, I care and root for him. Nobody’s mysterious and distant character easily magnet me to his side, wanting to know more about him. And even with his distant voice, he managed to show enough details being the keen and observant that he is.
At a young age, Nobody was stripped with his identity, personality and even his morality. All he has is his responsibility given by The Program via missions. He was mold to kill, not to ask questions, or defy the rules given to him. It was like he was programmed to do what needs to be done. The Program instill to him that what he is doing is for the good of majority, if not for everyone. That he is being patriotic serving his country. But Nobody isn’t born in this kind of life, he has his past that is more normal, past that sometimes he thinks of. Before he was recruited by The Program, he lives a normal life as a young boy with his parents, until the day that Mike, one of the assassin enter his life. Nobody is the mark, and his dad is the target. The Program give him no choice, which makes me sympathize for him and questions the real importance and goals of The Program. Because despite Nobody’s morally questionable way of life as an assassin, he is just a young boy, used by more powerful to do their dirty job. He didn’t choose to be an assassin, he didn’t chose to kill.
As for The Program, the book doesn’t really provide much information about them, all we know is that it is a shadowy organization working for the United States government. I’m actually curious about them. I’m interested to know more about their inside operation, how they work? What side do they really work for, is it really for government of the United States or it just a front they want to project? And a million more things I want to uncover about them. They intrigue me so much. And not only the organization as an entity but also the ideas they are working for. The fact that they are brainwashing young teenager like Nobody, forcing them to do things they don’t even know the whole point, and giving only vague details about their missions.
One thing I like about The Program is how advance their process are. The way they communicates with Nobody, talking in code, encrypted messages, using regular technologies like iPhones, pens and making it into a special communication gadget, or weapons. The use of “Father” and “Mother” for Nobody’s superiors were brilliant and add more uniqueness to the story.
I thought that the story will end without giving the main character’s real name — The name given to him by his real parents when he was born into this world. Obviously with me not mentioning his birth name in this review, I prefer him anonymous. It adds more mystery to his character. But I admit, when I’m reading I’m also excited to find out his birth name, it just so happen that it was revealed uncharacteristically, not in a clever way that I expected it will be, which makes me care less about it.
As for the ending, I like that the Allen Zadoff didn’t make Nobody totally a changed boy, not yet. I almost expect Nobody to failed in his last mission. I can see it happening, it almost happen but I’m glad it didn’t. Not only because it will feel too fast, contrive, or underdeveloped but also it won’t justify much his character as an assassin trained by The Program. I’m glad Allen Zadoff didn’t go that path, he didn’t chose the perfect happy ending yet. No huge revelations either, but still he triggered something in Nobody’s heart and mind, which I think is enough arc for the first book.
A closer look behind the missions and actions…
Power and authority
The Program is the best and simple example of “high power advantage”. They are using their position and power for their own advantage, to the point of abducting, brainwashing, and using young teenagers like Nobody for their own interest. It may appear that what they are doing is for the best of majority, but who actually decide those things? How can we tell if the “best interest” is really the best if the decisions were made only by few people? And what about patriotism, isn’t it should be temper at least to some extent? How is it really defined? Is doing something bad for the sake of your country is enough justification?
“What is the lesson? Survive. No matter what happens to you, no matter the circumstances, no matter what life tosses at you–the loses, the pain. You must survive.”
Nobody is a survivor, he choose to survive even it means he loses his own identity, choices, and even the life he wants. He is acting for self-preservation ever-since he was taken by The Program, doing his missions and every tasks given to him because those things are all part of his survival. He needs to perform and act accordingly in order to survive. His failure can cost his life, and maybe the lives of people he care for.
Choices and consequences
“Guys like Howard live like this. It’s their burden to bear. They don’t get to make choices about who they want to be in the world. The choice is already made for them, maybe from birth, maybe from bad luck. Who knows? They only have to live with the consequences.”
I always thought that everyone always has a choice, that we are made by our choices in life, but this book prove me wrong somehow. It shows that not everyone has equal amount of choices in life, and sometimes we don’t even have the chance to pick up or decide what to choose. Circumstances and even positions can make choices for us, as much as it is not fair, life don’t always gave us control over the choices we make. All we can do is take the consequences of those choices and try our best to make it better somehow.
Identity and our place into this world
“Do you ever wonder where you belong?” she says. “Like maybe life made a mistake and put you someplace you weren’t supposed to be?”
Sometimes human existence is a quest of finding our place into this world, of knowing what our purpose and our goals. Like Nobody, we are in our quest of finding our real purpose, questioning our own selves if we actually doing our part in this world. Sometimes we are put into a situation when we will start analyzing things around us and our role in it.
Responsibility vs. Morality
“…’You’re the boy who doesn’t believe in anything. We’re different that way. I not only believe, I’m willing to back it up with action.’ “
People usually believe what they only understand, or what their environment instill to them what to believe. Like Nobody. the ethical systems, and surrounding situations is capable of changing our views and opinions of what we perceive as moral or not. And being moral isn’t about just doing what is good, it also requires for us to take responsibilities not for our own behavior but for what maybe the consequences for everyone around us. It is taking responsibility for everyone that may be involved with our decisions and actions directly or not. And unlike with responsibility. which is more self-conscious and deliberately moral, morality carry more weight in it, but the question is who defined what is moral and what is not?
More than the action packed and thrilling plot, Boy Nobody is a story of an assassin who begins to feel and experience life for the first time. It is about his battle between morality and responsibility, and how power was used to him for the advantage of those in higher position. This book is definitely a fast-faced, thrilling, and entertaining read that deals with espionage, assassins, and terrorists mixed with human themes of power, corruption, and lies. Definitely a worth read!