cover image Violence 101

Violence 101

Denis Wright, Putnam, $16.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-399-25493-2

Hamish Graham is 14 years old and in his fourth juvenile detention home for violent behavior—including what would have been manslaughter if he'd been old enough for jail. Hamish is confident, intelligent, and hardly sympathetic, but as the book progresses, readers see there is a method to what is not exactly madness. Shifting mainly between Hamish's journal entries and heated conversations among staffers about him, debut novelist Wright reveals that the genesis of Hamish's actions lies with society. Where is the moral distinction between Hamish's experiments on animals and those done by medical researchers? And how, Hamish asks, would his hero Alexander the Great, "probably responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths," be thought of today? Set in New Zealand, where it was published in 2007, Wright's novel is clever and biting, a tragedy of society's failure to deal with kids like Hamish and a satire of society's winking condemnations of violence. Hamish's actions can be revolting, despite his justifications, but he still draws empathy as a product of the environment at large. Hardly a comfortable book to read, but a gripping one. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)