The Reckoning by James Jauncey

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The Reckoning by James Jauncey

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A tense and exciting novel about family breakdown, racism and cults. There's one slightly clunky plot device but it doesn't detract from a thoughtful novel written with great sensitivy.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: November 2008
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 0330454013

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Out for an early morning, head-clearing walk along the beach, Fin's thinking about his life as an independent Whale Islander and how it will change when he leaves for university. But his thoughts are interrupted by the sound of car doors slamming and a brief argument from the bridge above him. Then there's a glimpse of movement and a dull, wet thud. Cradling the dying girl in his arms, Fin has a sense that this experience is going to change his life forever. And it does. Fin can't shake the suspicious feeling that the girl didn't jump but was pushed, and with characteristic determination, he sets out to discover exactly what happened.

Fin's family background isn't a happy one. His sister has disappeared, his father has become an unemployed drunk since an accident at work, and his home is full of unspoken tensions and aggressive eruptions. Across on neighbouring Seal Island, the Green Energies Institute shrouds its clean energy research in unnecessary and suspicious secrecy. A series of racist bomb attacks is terrorising the mainland. And Fin is increasingly convinced that all these things are somehow connected.

It's an incredibly powerful opening to James Jauncey's latest young adult thriller. There's almost a Hardyesque sympathetic background as the mists roll in across the cold Scottish beach, the shock of sudden violence, and a tremendously moving death scene of tenderness between strangers. And it creates an immediate and sympathetic connection with the central character that lasts all the way through the book. It'll stay with me for a long time.

Thematically, The Reckoning is about family breakdown, racism and cults. It's a lot to bite off for one novel and could have got terribly messy, but it doesn't at all. The writing is tight, tense and intelligent, and the plot bears down with single-minded purpose. It's the perfect blend of thriller and kitchen sink drama. There's one slightly clunky moment when Fin's sister needs an epiphany-causing event to propel the story on - why is it so difficult to make a criticism sans spoiler when writing a review?! - and it suddenly comes out of nowhere rather than developing, but truthfully, this is the only small pick I have with the entire book.

The Reckoning is tense and exciting, it's only too credible, it asks difficult questions, has a charismatic central character and an atmospheric setting, and doesn't shy away from death. What more could you ask? It's probably accessible to slightly younger teens than Jauncey's previous offering, The Witness, which Bookbag also loved, but it's also more than worth an evening or two of any adult's time.

Great stuff.

My thanks to the nice people at Picador for sending the book.

Fans of issue-based thrillers might also enjoy The Angel Collector by Bali Rai or Infinite Sky by CJ Flood.

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Janie said:

I loved your review which so captured the essence of The Reckoning -- that mixture of tenderness and thriller; the great opening pages -- putting me in mind of his 'The Witness' and 'The Mapmaker' (this the greatest opening visually speaking I have ever come across). I found the subtlety and depth of the relationships: between the courageous mother and teenage son; between son and his friends, Poacher and The Duck, most inspiring. Another great read from Jauncey; once again I couldn't put the book down.