The Alex Crow

304p. ebook available. Dutton. Mar. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780525426530.
Gr 9 Up—The author weaves several odd yet connected story threads: the 19th-century Arctic exploration aboard the ill-fated Alex Crow ship; a madman's bizarre U-Haul road trip; and the Merrie-Seymour Research Group and its de-extinction program. But the most compelling narrative is that of Ariel, a teenage refugee of an unnamed country, who is adopted into an American family. He and his brother, Max, are sent to Camp Merrie-Seymour "where boys rediscover the fun of boyhood." The camp's purpose is to wean teenage boys off of their technology addictions. Unfortunately for Max and Ariel, their father works for Merrie-Seymour, so they're forced to attend because it's free. Smith deftly combines Ariel's harrowing wartime horrors juxtaposed against his hilarious six weeks at an American summer camp with maladjusted teenage boys. The teen protagonist is the lens through which readers see how society exerts its control over teenage boys' thoughts and actions. And Camp Merrie-Seymour is the satirical showcase for how often these boys are expected to deal with the harsh world on their own without any real guidance from adults. Smith's writing seems to ebb from an honest place, not one of nostalgia, but of the discomfort and agony of adolescence. Smith follows up his enthralling, boundary-pushing Grasshopper Jungle (Dutton, 2014) with this more cohesive and brilliant work.
VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections.

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