Youth Reads: Recruits

BY THOMAS LOCKE

Since they were children, twin brothers Sean and Dillon Kirrel have shared a dream. It’s an oddly specific dream: a vision of an otherworldly train station, where gravity doesn’t apply. For 10 years, they’ve been drawing the station all over their walls, dreaming of being able to go there in reality.

Then one day, to their shock, they meet a new neighbor who not only knows all about their dream, but tells them it can come true.

The premise of Thomas Locke’s “Recruits” is an imaginative and fascinating one. Unfortunately, the actual story doesn’t quite live up to the possibilities of that premise. There are some decent characterization and dialogue, and the mechanics of a good plot are there, but they’re swamped by a mass of tedious and largely unnecessary details. Those looking for a fast-paced thriller won’t find it here.

True, a lot of those details are expressly designed to appeal to the average teenage boy, so that may win over many young readers. The idea of learning not only to transit to futuristic train stations on other planets, but also to fight aliens who threaten to infiltrate and destroy those planets, holds major appeal for the target demographic. So do the frequent descriptions of nice cars and other favorite items of young males.

This points to a larger problem, though. Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with nice cars and so forth; the problem lies in the way these descriptions are used. Almost from the time they begin their training with Carver, their mysterious new next-door neighbor, Sean and Dillon are showered with rewards, including a serious amount of money and a new car. And their rewards are not only material items.

First Dillon and then Sean have beautiful girls practically throwing themselves at them. Dillon saves a schoolmate, Carey, from an attack by her ex-boyfriend, and soon afterwards they’re inseparable. (While Dillon’s actions are commendable, it’s a bit disturbing that the incident is treated mainly as a way for him to cover himself in glory, with very little recorded about how it affects Carey.) As for Sean, shortly after he meets a lovely young woman named Elenya in another world, she’s vowing to give up everything for him and do whatever he wants.

The idea that a quest brings plentiful rewards like this at every stage, rather than involving nothing but hard work and sacrifice until the very end, is something straight out of James Bond. Obviously, the Bond formula is an extremely successful one, so it’s not surprising to see other authors replicating it, even in teen novels. But one would hope for a slightly higher standard from a Christian author like Locke. It’s true that he presents the story without sex or profanity, which is a plus, but he seems to be sending messages about instant gratification and wish fulfillment that are just as troubling in their own way.

Additionally, he has Elenya pressing Sean for a lifelong commitment, and Sean feeling like he must give it to her, when they barely know each other and are both still teenagers. This is especially confusing because an older character, Tirian, is kidnapped and possessed by aliens when he gives in to a woman he barely knows. So is this a dangerous thing to do, or isn’t it? The author can’t seem to make up his mind.

One final problem: What little character development there is, is poorly done. Dillon has some character flaws at the beginning, including anger issues, but we never see him actually working to overcome them. The story’s message seems to be that all a young man needs is the proper quest to show up on his doorstep, and once he has that outlet, all those flaws will somehow just magically resolve themselves. There may be something in the idea that finding one’s purpose can aid in character growth, but it all seems just a little too easy here.

More than that, Sean and Dillon start to become arrogant toward the adults in their lives, thinking they know better than those who have been training them for only a very short amount of time, and this is portrayed as totally justified. (Their parents, who are in the middle of a divorce, are barely a footnote. The boys actually leave home partway through the book and move in with Carey and her father — who barely knows them — and everyone is apparently just fine with this!)

It may not sound like it, but I really wanted to like “Recruits.” The idea was a strong one and the characters at first seemed very likable. Ultimately, however, the book takes the laziest route to reader satisfaction, and while this may please some readers, the ideas and themes that make it possible offer reason for their parents to be concerned.

Image copyright Revell. Review copy obtained from the publisher.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, and the author of “One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church” (Baker, June 2017).


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