The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith was a baffling read from the beginning to the very end. Baffling but fascinating, engaging, engrossing, moving, and thrilling. I didn’t know where the story was heading and in the end, I wasn’t quite sure where I have been: spanning time and space, from the icy pole in the 1800s to the summer heat of an American summer camp now (?) — encountering the Melting Man (literally,) the refugee boy, the eccentric scientists, the Dumpling Man, and many others. Or even where we eventually arrived — are we to be pleased with Ariel’s final situation, bonded with his adopted brother and their new found friend, no longer being closely monitored? Are we to continuously be paranoid of how our lives might be closely examined by unknown forces and crazy scientists? At least I know to unconditionally love Ariel for his intelligence and compassion.
Since earlier this year’s brouhaha about Andrew Smith’s “lacking” in inclusion of positive female characters in his work, I couldn’t help but noticing that in this book the readers only encounter two real life women: one is a completely ineffective mother figure and the other is a terrifying scientist whose goal is to eliminate all males from the human species. (I’m not counting the two imaginary women in the Melting Man’s schizophrenic head.)
Of course, introducing compassionate and caring characters (male or female) will result in a completely different story: one that simply wouldn’t have been as brutal to such extreme and thus wouldn’t have had the same level of impact. If the point is to portray a world for Ariel and his buddies to “survive” in without the physical or emotional support of kind souls, Smith succeeded brilliantly.
And I must mention his ability to effortlessly switch into drastically different narrative voices! A skilled writer, indeed!