"My life is one continual assignment. I move from world to world as I've been trained to do, leaving nothing but bodies behind me. With each assignment comes new challenges, new complications, new excitement."Taken from his family at twelve, "Boy Nobody" is trained to become an efficient killing machine, sent in to take out specific targets. The usual method of operation sees him befriend the mark, usually the child of his intended target, which allows him access to the family. Once in the family, he kills the target which is the parent of the child. Efficient and deadly.
Zadoff starts this thriller off with Boy completing his recent "assignment", the killing of a Chinese CEO of a high-tech firm. Boy is friends with Jack Wu and on a visit to his home, while alone with Jack's father, he stabs him in the forearm with a pen. This pen is really a syringe that injects Mr. Wu with a powerful drug that stops his heart in seconds. And then he waits while the police and EMS arrive and simply walks away and onto his next assignment.
Boy is part of something called The Program. He was taken from his family when he was twelve by an older boy named Mike and given the option of either dying like his father and mother, or being part of The Program. He asked to be killed but instead was trained into a operative of The Program. The Program is about finding and removing enemies of the United States. Boy was trained by The Program who gave him a "Father" and a "Mother". His "Father coordinated and his "Mother" appeared often to check up on him. Boy did all of his high school in two years plus he completed special training in weapons and tactics, psychology and strategy. His "Mother" oversees each assignment and is in charge while his "Father" sends him the next assignment. Everything - clothing, fake ID, where he will live, money is pre-arranged for the next assignment and any contact with Father and Mother is encoded.
Boy soon learns that his next assignment is to kill the Mayor of New York, Jonathan Goldberg. This assignment however is unusual for a number of reasons. First he must complete his assignment within five days. Boy is disturbed because he has never been given so little time to enter and integrate before completing an assignment. His mark is Samara (Sam) Goldberg, the mayor's daughter. Boy doesn't like to deal with girls whom he finds complicated and who bring emotion into play.
He is inserted into a famous (unnamed) private school, which Sam attends, on the Upper West Side. Boy immediately attracts the attention of Sam who invites him to a party she is having at her father's apartment where Sam lives. Her mother was killed in an accident several years ago while visiting her home country of Israel. During the party, Boy manages to wander into the mayor's private area providing him with the perfect opportunity to fulfill his mission. However, Boy is caught off guard by the mayor's personable character and the resemblance to his father which brings back memories of his childhood. Because of this, Boy does not take the opportunity to kill Goldberg.
From the beginning there are complications leading Boy to begin questioning his mission. He suspects he is being followed, which is soon confirmed and results in a deadly confrontation. It soon becomes evident that some of the people around Sam are not whom they seem either. Boy begins to have strong feelings for Sam and they become romantically involved, just when the parameters of the mission begin to change. And Boy is left struggling whom to trust, his "Mother" or Sam and her father?
There's no doubt Zadoff has written a chilling novel about a boy turned into an special operative who takes out American enemies and traitors. He's a sixteen year old killing machine who assassinates without conscience. Boy is trained to not to ask questions and not to think about the effect the murder has on the family of the target. There's no way to describe the sanitized murder at the end of the book except as brutal, despite Boy assuring his "target" that dying won't hurt. It's a tragic end that seems wrong on so many levels.
It's evident that Boy is extremely intelligent. He completed all of his high schooling by the age of sixteen. Mature beyond his years, Boy is situationally aware, calculating and emotionally distant. Despite being pulled from society and subjected to rigorous training, Boy is extremely socially intelligent, something I found perhaps incongruous with his past.
But Boy, who finally has a name at the end of the novel, is changing. He has been challenged from his first encounter with Sam to consider who he is
Do you ever wonder where you belong?" she says. "Like maybe life made a mistake and put you someplace you weren't supposed to be?"and what he believes in.
"...'You're the boy who doesn't believe in anything. We're different that way. I not only believe, I'm willing to back it up with action.' "When the mission changes, Boy is conflicted as to what to do and about what he has been told. For the first time, he seeks to find out and he chooses Howard, the techie weirdo from school to help him. He's not so willing to simply accept what Mother tells him. He needs proof and Howard helps him get that proof.
Also for the first time after a mission, Boy feels intense grief - "a deep chasm of grief" as he describes it, which he finds unbearable and buries deep within himself. And while he originally thought he was one of a few operatives, he's now beginning to suspect that there are many others just like him who maybe have different jobs within The Program. Armed with a new piece of information about his family from what was supposed to be a deadly encounter with Mike, and with Howard secretly working with him, Boy intends to find out.
Zadoff has done a very good job of creating his characters - they are both realistic and multi-dimensional. Sam is a complex character - as Boy predicted- whose suffering after her mother's death was largely ignored by her father. Sam's father never allowed her the time or space to grieve, resulting in Sam's alienation from her father and resulting in her being able to be recruited by her Israeli soldier and lover, Gideon, into a terrorist cell.
Howard, the techie geek/weirdo is a brilliantly crafted character who is very disturbing. The classic bullied boy, intelligent and different, who can't seem to find his niche in society, pushed further into its fringes.
There are several murders, a great deal of physical violence and some sexual content in this novel but none is described in detail or graphically. Readers will be left with a ton of questions which leaves this novel leading nicely into a second book.
Update: Please note that the author has retitled this first novel to I Am The Weapon, the first in The Unknown Assassin series.
Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff
New York: Little, Brown and Company 2013