(Although I have hopes that things might change by the time I post this review, as of now I am vexed and thwarted; my eight year old finds the cover of this book scary, and keeps hiding it so he won't have to see it. Therefore, it is no longer by the computer where I left it (Fury of the Phoenix, the other book I brought up, is still there), and I can't include pithy quotes from it. And he isn't home right now to ask (his is a rich and full life). Argh).
Human.4, by Mike Lancaster (Egmont, 2011, 304 pages) is a book I had, before reading it, vaguely pegged in my mind as yet another YA dystopia. This, however, proved to be a facile judgment that didn't do this fine book justice. What it turned out to be (in my mind at least) is a really excellent science-fiction adventure story perfect for the 11 or 12 year old boy.
The story is presented as Kyle's first person narration, recorded onto cassette tapes and transcribed at a point far into the future (with amusing asides and annotations from future academics included). It begins thus: 'My name is Kyle Straker. And I don't exist anymore.' Of course, he did exist in a sense at that point in time, in as much as this book is his account of what befell him one fateful day. It was, in fact, the last day in which he was just a person like anyone else.
But it is also true that Kyle did, in fact, stop existing. What happened that day shunted him off the radar of the human race, and into a nightmare where strange and horrible things (from his perspective) had transformed all but a minuscule percentage of humanity into something....else. The mystery of what happened turns out to be deliciously sci fi-esque (you might be able to guess that from the cover), but I don't want to spoil it by saying more.
Happily (?) for Kyle, a girl he once almost sort of dated is in the same bizarre straits as he is....and this is where I think this book shows its true upper middle grade colors--their relationship isn't the point. The point, rather, is how one goes about making sense of a nightmare in which those you love are horribly changed, how one defines what it is to be human, and how one keeps just putting one foot in front of the other (ie, it's a book about seventh grade, although I wouldn't want to bet that the author had that metaphor in mind).
The mystery and the suspense of it all drives the book forward, and that is good, but even better, after a somewhat mundane start it became truly though-provoking. And although the secondary characters were little more than outlines, Kyle was enough of a person for me to find him interesting.
In short, Human.4 is entertaining for the older reader, as long as that reader isn't expecting YA dystopian romance, but really really good (obviously I have no way of knowing for sure, but I think so) for the upper middle grade boy in particular, and even more particularly, for the geeky middle grade boy.
I am going to try it on my almost 11 year old son, if it ever turns up again. Although it was pleasant to see how much he was enjoying re-reading Binky to the Rescue earlier today, there are lots of books out there waiting for him to read them, and he's not getting any younger.
Note: This was published in the UK as just 0.4. Other thoughts can be found at ComaCalm's Corner and (although ware spoilers) Read in a Single Sitting.
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)