I have no recollection of why I requested the ARC of I Am the Weapon, by Allen Zadoff. At first glance, it really doesn't seem like my kind of book, does it? Heavy on the YA, kind of violent, romance-y. But then, if you make a list of the things I do look for in books, we do hit all those items here: how-tos, problem solving, extreme competence, and characters who find their boundaries tested.
(Also, when I was a teenager I dreamed up a story about juvenile assassins, so I'm kind of attached to the premise.)
I'm generally skeptical about assassin books, because it's one of those things that sounds all dramatic, and sure, it probably leads to some adventures, but really its practitioners are unlikely to be lovely people. Being a killer has an exciting ring to it, but I don't trust a lot of books to make this as complicated as it needs to be for the premise not to be kind of depressing and offensive.
This book, though, grabbed me tight and didn't let go. I gulped it down, and it's made for that--the first person narrator addresses the reader in spare, practical prose. The competence is finely honed, and his humanity is hardly in evidence. He's a tool, a weapon, and that gives you both the dramatic adventure that you want and the cold heartlessness that you need to convince me to follow along.
The narrator is, I think, 17, and he's been an assassin for several years--ever since his parents were killed by his best friend. He works for a mysterious organization, and he believes that he's doing good, though that belief has little to do with his day to day life.
He's highly trained at fitting in as a teenager, and I think that's one of the most entertaining aspects of the book--watching him carefully fake being a normal kid, all the while watching his back, knowing that he could take out everyone in the room before they knew what hit them.
Of course there's a girl, and she gets in the way of the mission--this could have been cheesy, but it's handled really well, because it's not about instalove--it's about interest, fascination, and something that clicks--something about the chain of events has him thinking about his past and his personal history, and he's off his game. The book did not go where I expected, and for a YA book that mostly takes place in a high school, that's really amazing.
Now I'm waiting for I Am the Mission, the follow-up that comes out in June. This was a great hidden gem that I really just lucked into--seriously, so far 2014 is a really wonderful reading year for me!