Book Review: War Kids

cover-war kidsTitle: War Kids [War Kids 1]

Author: H.J. Lawson

Genre: Young Adult, Thriller

Rating: 1 Star

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Description/Synopsis:

When fourteen-year-old Jada wakes up in a hospital, the last thing she thinks is that her life has completely changed forever. But when the very real civil war forces her to flee from every open space, she must use the firearm skills her father taught her to reunite with him and protect herself.

Armed with a single gun and a key to an unknown locker, Jada crosses Syria on a journey with a group of children called the Fearless Freedom Fighters.

With the leader, Zak, they mount a plan to rescue their fathers while they try to cope with the merciless murders of their families. As Jada and Zak lead the group together, love blossoms, but with soldiers hot on their tail, they need to stay vigilant in the face of war.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Did not finish.  I tried—I really did. I picked up a copy of War Kids by H.J. Lawson directly from the author and then bought a second copy from Amazon with the hopes that it was going to be a fantastic story. Thrillers aren’t always at the top of my list of genres to read, but I do enjoy them now and then, and I was excited to take a look at a new author.

Unfortunately, the book didn’t live up to my expectations. The story started with chaos. Jada, a fifteen-year-old girl, wakes up surrounded by the remains of a bombed out hospital littered with the dead and dying. It was a great concept and a strong start, but I’ll admit, it was a little hard to follow. Jada’s confusion over her situation and a decided lack of explanation over who was attacking the hospital made it difficult to get a grasp on what was happening throughout the first chapter. The narrative was punctuated with odd little bits of information that felt out of place, and sometimes contradictory—such as the moment when Jada narrates about the gray dust covering her face. How does she know she has dust on her face? “Is there a mirror?” I couldn’t help but ask. A little while later, after she points out that she can’t hear any sound (despite people trying to scream at her), she then narrates the squeak of a bed. How did she know it squeaked?  It was little things like this that made the narrative feel sloppy and unfinished.

To make matters worse, the narrative lacked warmth. Jada spoke and narrated her story without contractions, making her voice seem awkward and unnatural—almost clinical, especially considering the context of the story. Both she, and the other characters in the story kept referring to the 15 to 18-year-old teens as “children” or “kids”, and well, it seemed odd. I can’t think of a single teen in real life who would refer to themselves or other teens as children.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why I disliked the story so much. It was nothing big—just little things. For example, when a 15-year-old girl narrates that she’s been a trained killer for the past two years and yet she feels horrified and upset over stepping over dead bodies while fleeing for her life. Or in another chapter, how a boy makes it a point to become angry at the fact that soldiers with guns have forced his older brother to kneel, rather than being upset at the fact that he has a gun to his head and all his classmates have been murdered. Little moments like this stuck out at me as unconvincing. Possibly the worst offender was the moment an armed soldier walked into a boy’s bathroom, shot a student, and then was interrupted by an officer who came in, asked the soldiers his name, told him to keep up the good work, and left. What was the purpose behind the officer entering the bathroom in the first place? It didn’t make any sense.

I stopped reading after the fifth chapter. By then I was 13% into the book and I had yet to see any glimpse of a plot. Nothing had happened outside of two kids running away from soldiers and a brief foray into a news broadcast. I was bored, and actually stopped to look up how many pages the book contained. When I realized it was nearly 300 pages long, I gave up. I had no desire to continue to slog through 300 pages.

Though I didn’t care for the book, that isn’t to say that it was all bad. I found it interesting to follow kids through a warzone—to see their reactions and rationalizations as they took in the ever-changing world around them. Though a tad sloppy with the content editing, the narrative was relatively clean and well-paced. I only found one obvious typo. I didn’t find the characters annoying—just a bit stiff. I just wasn’t interested.

I’m sure there are others out there that will find this story riveting and heartbreaking, and if young adult thrillers are your thing, I encourage you to pick up this book and give it a read. Most of the reviews at the moment are 4 or 5 stars. I concede the fact that I was probably not the right audience for this book, and in the end, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

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