The YA Crime Thriller I've Hoped For: Fake ID by Lamar Giles
I've read a lot--and I mean a lot--of crime fiction, and until I picked up Lamar Giles' Fake ID, I'm certain I haven't encountered a young adult novel that really hit the notes of adult crime fiction.
Lamar Giles' Fake ID is told from the first-person point-of-view of of Nick Pearson--and yes, that is a fake name. He's been in the federal Witness Protection Program with his parents since his father agreed to testify against the crime boss he worked for. Nick's father is terrible at being in Witness Protection and they're on their last placement--the family has to make this work or else they're out of the program, on their own and in serious danger.
Nick's starting at a new high school in Stepton, Virginia, with yet another new identity, studying his personal "legend" (the fake backstory developed by the U.S. Marshall Service for each family) and trying to stay under the radar. He's quickly befriended by Eli, rabble-rousing editor of the school paper, who's eager to recruit the new kid to his one-man journalism operation.
No sooner has Nick softened to Eli's friendship than his new friend turns up dead. Now, he has to decide if he is going to stick to the rules and lie low or risk his family's place in WITSEC and try to figure out who's responsible for Eli's death--with some help from Eli's sister, Reya. He chooses to take the risk and try to unravel the conspiracy.
Confession: I’ve never been to a high school party. What? Is it that hard to believe? I’ve been in the Program since I was eleven. There were no middle-school parties those first two years, at least none that I got invited to. And I’ve attended only one other high school. The last time I went to a social gathering of my peers there was a Batman cake and a bouncy house. Now I was attending what seemed like some epic teen-movie bash, with the bonus objective of fishing for clues about my buddy’s possible murder, to which I hadn’t completely ruled out my father as an accessory. Most kids just worry about bad breath. I was stressed. Sue me.
Giles' writing stands out to me in the little details that made Nick and his world vibrantly alive.
I always find talking about the actual writing quality of books difficult, because it's such a relative, taste-based thing, but there's a particularly rich, yet pared-down, quality to Giles writing. Take this simple scene, for example.
I closed my door, maneuvered around unpacked junk, and lay on my unmade bed. Earbuds in, iPod cranked, I stayed there until the sun went down, then fell asleep with a rapper shouting at me. At least his yelling had a good beat.
Each scene is vivid like this, with lots of sensory elements, and it it really makes Fake ID stand out as a top-shelf thriller that never feels procedural.
Some readers may (and have, judging from comments on Goodreads) find themselves put off by the way some of the boys in this book (not the narrator, Nick) talk about girls and sex, but it read as pretty authentic to me, particularly in how it reveals the yuckiness of the dynamics of group culture. (Teenage boys--especially in groups--can be, well, kind of gross.) Your mileage may vary, as always, but it's something to be aware of if you're sensitive to that sort of thing.
But for me, that dialogue (and even Nick's teenage-boy admiration for love-interest Reya) contributed to the overall feel of richness in terms of the setting, characters and experience of Fake ID.
Fake ID is a tremendously hard novel to write about because after the first few chapters, sharing any details will diminish your enjoyment of the book, hence you're seeing uncharacteristic brevity from me. So I'll leave the plot and characters alone beyond what I've said.
However, one thing I did want to call out is that this is an excellent choice if you're looking to diversify your bookshelves.
In our two-part podcast episode on this very subject, I called out this novel as a fantastic example of what I love seeing in terms of diversity in YA novels in particular.
My interest in Fake ID was piqued by a post by Lamar Giles on the excellent Diversity in YA blog run by authors Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo. He talked about how a DIY ethos is essential when it comes to writing diversity, and I think this says it all.