Monday, March 24, 2014

Fake ID by Lamar Giles

Nick is used to being the new kid at school. After all, this is the fifth time in the past few years he's gone through this.

New school.

New town.

New identity.

Four years ago, back when Nick was still just a kid named Tony and living in Philadelphia, his father worked for a gangster, handling Kreso Maric's money. But his father snitched on Maric, who soon disappeared, and Nick's family has been in the Witness Protection program ever since. They've been relocated, again, this time to the rundown town of Stepton, where "[t]here was a chemical plant on the edge of town, its thick stacks sticking up over trees like a giant chain-smoker's cigarettes. They pumped storm clouds and gave the air a scent you could taste."

And in Stepton, it's not just the air that's polluted. Crimes don't seem to be taken seriously. Nick's dad gets caught up in some mysterious, secretive business--not for the first time--but this one's got him nervous. Spooked.

It's called Whispertown, this mysterious project that has Nick's dad--no stranger to furtive plots--so nervous. Eli, Nick's classmate and maybe his first friend in Stepton, is investigating Whispertown but refuses at first to tell Nick about it. Later, Nick realizes, "Of all the places I'd been, all the kids I met, [Eli] was the first to ever ask me to be a part of anything. Mostly, people were scared that I'd come to their school to take something from them. Their girl, or their spot on the team, or whatever attention they craved." But by then Eli is dead and it's left to Nick and Eli's sister to uncover the truth about what really happened to Eli.

Fake ID is great new YA mystery novel by Lamar Giles. It doesn't gloss over the darker or seedier elements (after all, Nick's family is in Witness Protection because his dad knowingly worked for a bad guy, not because someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time), but uses them to ground the story in a very realistic way. Nick's smart first-person narration propels the suspenseful story to its dramatic conclusion. If there is a bit too much foreshadowing for my taste, well, it does help make Nick an even more likable and relatable character than he already is. Giles does an excellent job with the plot and character development, keeping readers, including me, unsure about the culprit's (or culprits') identity. I am rarely surprised by the resolutions in YA mysteries, but this one I did not see coming. It was plausible, with hindsight, but definitely caught me by surprise. So, awesome job, Lamar Giles!

While the central mystery is resolved by the book's end, Giles leaves enough things open that there's easily room for additional books starring Nick. I, for one, would totally be on board with that.

Also, while Fake ID is absolutely worth a read on its own merits, what with the recent New York Times op-eds by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers (must reads, by the way, titled "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?" and "The Apartheid of Children's Literature"), this is worth mentioning, too: noticed the cover of Fake ID? Yeah, that's an African American teen on the cover. Nick is African American, Eli is Latino, and they are not the only people of color in the book.

Possible readalikes: Shelter by Harlan Coben, My Own Worst Frenemy by Kim Reid, perhaps Something Rotten by Alan Gratz and White Cat by Holly Black.

Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Published 2014
ISBN 9780062121844

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