cover image The Terrorist

The Terrorist

Caroline B. Cooney. Scholastic, $15.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-590-22853-4

Accomplished storyteller Cooney's (The Face on the Milk Carton) latest thriller combines heartpounding suspense with some sobering reflections on the insular attitude characteristic of many Americans both at home and abroad. Eleven-year-old Billy Williams is an American boy spending a year in London with his teenage sister, Laura, and their parents. Bubbling over with projects, grand ambitions (including a plan to visit every inch of China) and a multitude of get-rich-quick schemes, Billy is as engaging as he is exuberant--making it especially horrifying when, at the end of the first chapter, he is killed by a terrorist bomb in an Underground station. Thanks to the convincing storytelling and clever (if somewhat manipulative) plotting, it's easy enough to imagine the family's stunned grief and to empathize with likable (yet remarkably naive) Laura as she becomes entangled with a Muslim classmate's scheme to use Billy's passport to emigrate to the U.S. Gripping from the very start, the narrative becomes nearly impossible to put down as it races to its nail-biting though slightly far-fetched climax. Nicely observed bits of a London beyond the usual tourist spots combine with authentic details of the expatriate lifestyle (e.g., the American students' contraband trade in Hostess Twinkies and Kraft macaroni & cheese) to add plenty of local color to the international intrigue. Thought-provoking as well as a just plain good read. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)