Kevin Brooks's new novel iBoy is built on a completely preposterous premise. That's why I didn't want to read the book at first. Well, that and the silly title as well as the laughable line just below the title: Search. Shock. Destroy. Really? Really?
Well, I'm glad I got over all of that and started reading because iBoy was, in the end, a totally unexpected, very powerful book. I still think the title is goofy and that "Search-Shock-Destroy" thing is ridiculous, but I hope other readers will overlook these details just enough to give iBoy a try.
Tom Harvey lives with his grandmother in an apartment tower in the lower middle class London projects of Crow Town. He hates life in Crow Town, the violence of the gangs, the drug deals, the hopelessness that permeates each day there. So when his childhood friend Lucy asks him to come up to her apartment after school one day, Tom almost allows himself to feel happy at the prospect of reconnecting with her. But that moment of brightness is shattered when, as Tom approaches the building, someone throws an iPhone at him from the very top floor, smashing his skull and embedding pieces of the phone in his brain.
As Tom recovers from that incident, a terrifying and unimaginable realization dawns on him: he is no longer just Tom, a very average British teenager. The chips from the iPhone that have fused with his brain have given him extraordinary powers- powers to search for, find, and manipulate information; powers to influence and control; powers to make him practically invincible.
Now Tom has a choice to make. Should he use these abilities to exact revenge on the gang of boys that assaulted and horrifically violated Lucy? Tom knows the gangs have ruled by violence, so should they now die in the same way? But if he destroys them with his rage and inconceivable powers, what does that make him?
Brooks does not make the experience of iBoy an easy one for his readers. The level of violence in the novel is jarring and sickening, and it is rendered so realistically that it takes one's breath away. The bad guys here are about as bad as humans can be, just soulless, hollow people living in futile circumstances. What makes the reader push forward is Tom, a boy who knows he's not special but who has somehow become inexplicably special. While the fights flare in Crow Town, the real battle is within Tom's own psyche, and the reader feels every one of Tom's wrenching emotions and strains with every one of Tom's impossible choices. Brooks gives Tom incredible humanity even as part of him has become inhuman.
Forgive Brooks the absurd premise of iBoy and read it. The book is both thrilling and heartbreaking in equal measure, and Tom, the haunting, haunted hero, is beautiful and tragic in equal measure, too.