Review: The Twelve-Fingered Boy – John Hornor Jacobs

The Twelve Fingered BoySynopsis from Goodreads.
Fifteen-year-old fast-talking Shreve doesn’t mind juvie. He’s good at dealing contraband candy, and three meals a day is more than his drunk mother provided. In juvie, the rules never change and everyone is the same. In juvie, Shreve has life figured out.

So when he’s assigned a strangely silent and vulnerable new cellmate, Jack, Shreve takes the younger boy under his wing. But all Shreve’s plans and schemes unravel when he discovers Jack is different. For one thing, Jack has six fingers per hand. For another thing, he just might have superpowers.

Soon Jack has drawn the attention of the cellblock bullies as well as the mysterious and chilling Mr. Quincrux—who claims to be from the Department of Health and Human Services. But when Shreve feels Quincrux invade his mind and shuffle through his darkest memories, he knows Quincrux’s interest in Jack is far more sinister. Mr. Quincrux means to take Jack away. For what purposes, no one knows.

But Shreve has another plan: escape.

I have to admit that the majority of my knowledge of American prison stems from that time when I was supposed to be writing my dissertation but, actually, I just watched American TV programmes.

This is why when someone says “American prison” to me, my brain automatically creates a Prison Break/Oz/Arrested Development hybrid.

All I know is that American prisons are terrifying. I actually watched a documentary on Strangeways a few years ago are remember thinking about how horrible it looked but it has nothing on American prisons.

So when I saw this book was set in American juvie, I was intrigued. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any book that I’ve read that’s been set in juvie so I knew it was going to be different. And I think that’s what attracts me to books nowadays. If the story is different, I’m sold.

Anyway. I liked this book a lot. What I liked the most about it was that it took the preconceptions of two of my least favourite YA tropes, things that would normally persuade me not to read a book, and turned it into something brilliant and really clever.

First up, I’ve never been a fan of the Kids Who Do Bad Things. Or, well, I am in theory and when I read the synopsis of the book and it sounds great and twisty, but I always seem to be disappointed in the way they’re written. Mostly, because they’re too safe. If you’re writing a book about a Kid Who Does a Bad Thing… go for it. Don’t wuss out and wrap your characters up in moralistic cotton wool or, worse, explanations.

Have your Kid do a Bad Thing just because…. And that’s the story I want to read.

I guess in The Twelve-Fingered Boy, the two main characters have explanations but they’re not pithy and they don’t encourage you to feel sorry for them.

I liked that Shreve, the main character, had a bit of a rough edge and Mr HJ thought a bit outside the box with the characterisation rather than just “misunderstood” and “damaged”. It always makes such a difference when the characters aren’t run-of-the-mill and bland.

However, and this is where I confuse you all by completely going against everything I’ve just said, there is a part of me that wishes this had been a contemporary book. I think this is the same problem I had with Ultraviolet which this book shares a lot of similarities with (I know a lot of you loved that one!). I’m not the biggest fan of sci-fi fantasy and whatnot, you know that, I often find myself wishing that books like that would just bite the bullet and be a contemporary book. Strip away the paranormal aspects and you have a great book. With it? To me, you have an OK book.

Yes, I liked how he portrayed the Kids with Special Powers but that was only because it was included. I think this book would have been infinitely better if this had just been the story of Shreve and Jack, minus their… quirks, because my favourite part of this book were their stories. How they got to where they were, their backgrounds, their presents and to see where they would end up, even after I’ve stopped turning the pages. I loved their relationship; it was so well-written that I found myself wanting to get back to them when I was supposed to be concentrating on the explanations.

Which is probably why I didn’t always understand it.

But, obviously, that wasn’t the story that Mr HJ wanted to tell. It’s not his fault that it was the one I wanted to read, is it?

One last thing: the writing in this book is wonderful. What I loved about it was that it was surprisingly beautiful in some places. I don’t know, I can’t really explain what I mean with that one. I guess, you know the kind of books that you’re going to highlight quotes and relish in the language and things. I didn’t think this book was going to be like that, I thought it was going to be very story driven but, actually, there were a lot of thoughts and observations from Shreve that I absolutely adored.

I’m not sure if this is the first book in a series or anything but it’s definitely an interesting book. And it’s definitely an interesting debut for Mr HJ and I’ll be watching out for the rest of his books with curiosity.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers. 

3 thoughts on “Review: The Twelve-Fingered Boy – John Hornor Jacobs

  1. I know exactly what you’re talking about here. I sometimes get irrationally angry when I am reading a book and I think it could’ve been just so much better if the author had just kept it real. Those fantastical elements totally take away from the story if the author doesn’t just dive the whole way in. (I also think I kind of hate magical realism altogether) I did really like Ultraviolet but another book that had the problem you’re talking about is I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells. At least for me, I wanted the author to just keep it in reality. Despite all this, it does sound like I might like the book. Side note: HJ=handjob. I smirked every time you wrote Mr. HJ. JSYK.

  2. Flann, lolololol.

    Anyway, I think I’m going to give this one a go, purely for the well-written ‘bad’ character, because this intrigues me very much. Less so the whole superhero thing – I’m with you on that. Sometimes it can just be used as an excuse to not be quite as brave when it comes to the real stuff.

  3. You know me, I love contemp, but every now and then I enjoy some with a twist. However, I do think it’s a shame when there’s just a dash of something odd in a contemp and it doesn’t add anything and in fact gets in the way!

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