THE ALEX CROW
RATING: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Holy masturbation jokes, Batman! This is going to get me a lot of spam comments, I am sure, but I’ll stay optimistic. Sometimes I wonder—not being male—if the severe amount of sexual innuendos and conversations about playing some solitaire are real and that extensive. Grasshopper Jungle prepared me for the (somewhat) one track mind of a teenage boy, but that preparation was for other novels where there are teen boy protagonists. The Alex Crow decided to take that very high bar and pole vault over it.
Please excuse my skeptical and somewhat confused expression that my face has been stuck in since finishing this book.
The Alex Crow follows the story of Ariel (Ah-riel) Burgess, adopted foreign orphan who has a heavy library of past horrors that he carries around with him. Ariel and his new brother, Max, are sent to Merrie-Seymour Camp for Boys for six weeks, where Ariel discovers that the Alex Division (employer of his new father and backers for the camp) are up to some shady dealings, their therapist Mrs. Nussbaum wants to eradicate the male species, and living with other technology-dependent boys is not all it’s cracked up to be. Coupled with Ariel’s discoveries are alternating chapters on the history of Dr. Merrie and his strange forays into “de-extinction” ; Leonard, an insane (and melting) man; and Ariel’s past before being brought to America, told as if Max was sitting with him. As the stories intertwine together, their truths and connections become more apparent, shocking, and utterly terrible.
This is a very weird novel, more so than his previous work, Grasshopper Jungle.
The “abnormal” of The Alex Crow hindered the book. Ariel’s story is compelling, sad, traumatic, and relatable in bits and pieces. While no one can share the same exact past with a fictional character, the emotions and the actions taken by Ariel are something relevant to any person, young or old. Even his time at camp that fluctuated between strange and painfully normal was interesting—boys being skeptical of the therapist who is the only woman at a camp full of boys? Finding amusement and believability in their irrational generalizations was easy and entertaining.
But then comes Dr. Merrie’s journal.
And Leonard, with his mercury filled U-Haul truck talking to Joseph Stalin.
The parts these chapters play are important to the way Smith tells the story, but are they necessary if—say—Smith told it another way? Leonard became unnecessary when it was obvious he was not the only one with his “condition” and served only the purpose of having some abstract, bizarre, and quite frankly disgusting imagery for Smith to pull out all the stops. Leonard is not called the melting man for nothing.
Dr. Merrie’s account of his trek in the Alex Crow ship and discovery of the Karkov’s Devil Man was pertinent, but only in small increments. The amount of time spent to these journal entries, which felt repetitive and cyclical, was too much for the novel. By the time the reader rounds back to a journal entry by Merrie, a loud long sigh has occurred—why am I here again? Is this information secret? (It’s not, by the way) Could the irony of Merrie’s discovery be posed in another way? Absolutely.
Smith did himself a disservice by taking the Michael Grant route—you’ll know if you bit the bullet and read all of the Gone series—and the forced nature of the off-the-wall side stories made the book difficult to follow and with an ending that felt just as long as Merrie’s frozen encounters with the crew aboard the Alex Crow.
However, Smith makes a case for the idiosyncrasies of humanity (big thoughts, I know) and how experiences—despite whatever preparation a person believes to have mentally and physically—cannot ready anyone for the harsh truth of reality. There are theories, nature versus nurture and survival of the fittest, explored here that are the most relevant in Ariel’s story. Which is why, when pressed, the focus should have stayed with him rather than attempting to tackle these same, sweeping thoughts in the side characters of Dr. Merrie and Leonard.
I think I’m done with Smith for a while.
In the end, the tl;dr—Full of masturbation jokes (and I’m sad I didn’t think to count until halfway through the book) and brutally harsh imagery, The Alex Crow will appeal to Smith fans–and Grant fans—but you’re bound to get lost along the way.
IF YOU LIKED THIS BOOK, YOU MIGHT LIKE: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, Plague by Michael Grant, Noggin by John Corey Whale