Two Thrillers with Punch and Pride

The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney.
Exciting, plot-driven young adult fiction with little or no sex or gory violence. Why can’t it all be written so well and so cleanly?

Laura and Billy are American ex-pats living in London with their working-in-the-UK parents and having the time of their young lives. Eleven year old Billy, especially, is outgoing, adventurous, and busy, charming everyone he meets as he explores the British culture and landscape in London. Laura is busy, too, mostly assessing the attractiveness of the boys in her international school. Then, Billy is handed a mysterious package in a London Underground station, and their lives are forever changed.

Ms. Cooney did an excellent job of sustaining the suspense in this mystery thriller and also showing us how an older teenage sister might react to terrorism that impinges on her world and her own family. Laura is so typically American, ignorant and oblivious to the danger and the politics swirling around her. I’m just like her in many ways, and certainly most of the teens I know are quite unaware of the political nuances of international enmities and alliances. The Terrorist demonstrates just how gullible we Americans can be, but it doesn’t show scorn for the United States or its people.

If We Survive by Andrew Klavan.
This YA novel, also about terrorism and American teens confronting the world of evil people who want to kill us, is a bit more violent, and there are a few plot holes. (Really, Will could learn to fire a machine gun from a moving truck within a few minutes when he had never even held a gun before?) In the book, high schooler Will Peterson and three friends, along with their youth director from church, go to some unspecified country in Central America to build a school. While they are there, a revolution takes place, and Will and his group are caught up in the violence and politics of the country.

One of the youth group characters, Jim, sympathizes with the socialist rebels who are intent on killing the Americans, and he believes that he can convince the rebels to let them go if he can just talk to them and show them how much he supports their cause. Again with the American naivete. A few bullets convince Jim that the rebels aren’t much interested in his revolutionary bona fides.

Klavan writes good fast-paced fiction for a hard-to-please audience—teen boys. Not that girls wouldn’t also enjoy If We Survive, especially since the real heroine of the story is Meredith, whose courage and faith in God sustain everyone through their ordeal. But boys will enjoy this one just like they did The Homelanders series. I’m looking forward to giving a copy of If We Survive to my fifteen year old, Karate Kid, and watching him rip through it.

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