Being by Kevin Brooks

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Being by Kevin Brooks

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Frighteningly good writing, a tense plot, existential questions and vivid emotions make this Blade Runner themed book a five star volume, not to be missed.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2007
Publisher: Puffin Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141381442

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A routine endoscopy looking for stomach ulcers ends sixteen-year-old Robert Smith's conception of himself as a teenage boy like any other. Conscious but still anaesthetised, he can hear the commotion surrounding an operation gone wrong. For the surgeons haven't found an ulcer. Instead, they have found a network of mysterious and advanced technological implants. Terrified, they have called in a shadowy government agency and a sinister agent called Ryan appears to be directing the doctors. And then all hell breaks loose. On the run from the authorities, Robert hooks up with Eddi Ray, the ex-girlfriend of an old friend's brother. Eddi specialises in producing false identities and together they try to find out what has happened to Robert.

I don't think Kevin Brooks is capable of writing a poor paragraph, let alone a poor book. Lucas featured a quasi-Christ figure and stayed with me for months after I read it. My son has read it at least a dozen times. Martyn Pig is one of the saddest yet funniest books I've ever read. It has quite a sad ending, yet left me feeling full of hope. That's quite an achievement. I was a little worried about Being, as a quick flick through the press release left me feeling I was in for a Blade Runner reprise and not the Brooks singularity I've come to admire. I really shouldn't be such a Doubting Thomas.

Being isn't quite a reprise of Bladerunner, although it isn't so very far away. It is a sci-fi thriller with a romantic sub-plot. But it is stamped all over with that singular voice. The world of teen literature is - thankfully - full of wonderful writers. But there are few who are so clearly driven to express themselves - warts and all - through art and who choose young people as their audience. David Almond is one, Melvyn Burgess is another. And Kevin Brooks is yet another. There is a very symbiotic relationship between Brooks and his readers. It's very clear that each are serving needs in the other. And it makes for some very special books.

Being is a desperate romance. It is a rollercoaster ride of a thriller. It is a highly stylised and challenging novel that asks difficult questions. It isn't like any of Brooks' other novels, and yet it is unmistakably Brooks. I think the thread that ties Being to his other work is the conflict between free will and determinism. Sometimes - as in Lucas - one character is fatalistic while another is idealistic and believes the future can be shaped. Sometimes this conflict is an internal dialogue for the central character. In Being, it is expressed through Robert's strange implants - do they preclude him from being human? Or is his humanity something he can construct for himself? Can any of us alter our fate?

Under 12s may miss some of the finer points, but Being's taut prose and unmistakable voice is so good, I'd give it to any child prepared to read it.

My thanks to the publisher, Penguin, for sending the book.

Another teen love thriller is Margaret Mahy's The Changeover. Alison Prince's Jacoby's Game asks similarly difficult existential questions. Finding Violet Park by Jenny Valentine achieves the same level of emotional connection.

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Magda said:

OK, I'll read some of his.

In my so called time and place we didn't have any teenage fiction like that, as far as I remember anyway. Or maybe, some. But mostly it was tainted by a moralising streak.

Jill replied:

Read Lucas first then, as it's my favourite. I think "young adult" writing is a relatively new phenomenon, cos I only really remember thinking Catcher In The Rye was ok if you were a boy but crap if you were a girl and then moving straight on to Jack Kerouac and thinking pretty much the same thing. I think I went from decent children's books via trashy adult books straight to cult fiction. Some of this teen market, obviously, is tosh, and it's increasingly being invaded by genre pieces corresponding to adult genre fiction, but some of it, like the stuff by this guy, is truly excellent.

Magda said:

I have just read Lucas, and it was good, I wouldn't have given it 5 stars though. The story is great in its inevitability, and the Lucas figure is outstanding, the animal element in particular was a master's touch.

But there was something with the narrator's narration that just left me cold: perhaps her constant meta-analysis and listings of the emotions (as in: "there was so many emotions xxx, yy, zzz" and then again "all these emotions aaa, bb, ccc").

I think it's probably appropriate to have things spelled out like that for the intended readership but it bothered me as a reader.

Oh, and I could never understand the furore over Catcher in the Rye, I always thought his short stories were much better.

Jill replied:

Ha. You're a navel-gazer and you moan about navel-gazing? Funny lady!

Kerry said:

I can't believe from the review, Jill, that this is a teenager's it like adults who read Harry Potter? Does it translate to adult fiction?

Jill replied:

Um... no. It's teen fiction. Meant for teenagers. Where Harry Potter is light genre fiction meant for pre and early teens and is sometimes enjoyed by adults, Being is a complicated contemporary novel aimed at older teens and young adults and is intended to inspire existential debate. They're like chalk and cheese, Kerry, sorry!

Sazzy1234 said:

I loved this book. My friend gave me a copy of Lucas to read and i loved that, so when i saw this on the selves and read the back i was like...i want it!

I read it in a day, i couldn't put it down.

It's a nice "inbetween" for teens. A book before we venture out into the adult fictions. It doesn't make things really simple, but it doesn't over complicate things too.

The characters where great and the story line was fantastic! I seriously couldn't put it down.

The online debate is great too. Although it seems not many people have joined yet, i think in a few months time when more copies have been sold, it will be much more of a debate.

This is my favourite book ever!