cover image A K


Peter Dickinson, Paul Dickerson. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15 (229pp) ISBN 978-0-385-30608-9

Paul, 12, remembers no other life than his nomadic existence as a Warrior--a junior member of a guerilla band fighting a civil war against the corrupt government of Nagala, a fictional African nation. When peace is declared, Paul's mentor, Michael, assumes an important role in the newly formed coalition government, rebuilding the country he loves. Paul--now Michael's adopted son--is sent to school in the north of the country. When the elected government is overthrown in a coup, Michael is put in prison and Paul, his life in danger, flees from the north. Accompanied by two other children, he journeys to the nation's capitol, determined to free his adoptive father. This exceedingly ambitious novel succeeds at everything it attempts: on the same high level as Lloyd Alexander's Westmark trilogy, it is a thorough examination of the nature of both democracy and war; it explores the legacy of imperialism; and it provides the reader with an exceptionally vivid picture of an African country and a handful of memorable citizens. Like all nations, Nagala is possessed of a complicated and specific political history; Dickinson manages to set forth its intricacies without becoming pedantic or talking down to his audience. The narrative has the rare sort of assurance that allows a varied array of vibrant characters to be created with a minimum of fuss. But best of all, AK is a simply rip-roaring adventure story. The exhilarating combination of spine-tingling storytelling and complicated ideas is an uncommon treat for sophisticated readers. Ages 12-up. (June)