Thursday, October 14, 2010

Violence 101 by Denis Wright

Fourteen year-old Hamish doesn't simply do terrible things, he is committed to the belief that violence is the solution to the obstacles in life. But Hamish is also extremely smart, and extremely self-aware. And he considers everyone around him, the other institutionalized boys, his teachers and wardens, the whole world, as sheep, blindly following society's rules, unaware of what really dictates our existence. Hamish's heroes, like Alexander the Great, understood that violence drives us all.

Through mesmerizing journal entries, Violence 101 paints a disturbing yet utterly compelling picture of an extremely bright, extremely misguided adolescent who must navigate a world that encourages aggressive behavior at every turn, but then struggles to help a young man who doesn't know where to draw the line between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. (from Amazon)

I found Violence 101 to be very interesting. I was expecting (or rather being strong-armed into believing via all the quotes and one-liners on the back) the book to be extremely deep and reveal the mindset of violent teenagers. However, I didn't really see that. Hamish was an interesting character in that he was unapologetic of his actions (for the most part). He recognizes and reveres his violent nature. He even realizes that his violent tendencies mean he doesn't care for other people. I looked up the signs of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and if I was a psychologist I would definitely diagnose Hamish as a sociopath. Some of the signs include cruelty to animals, problems with the law, lack of empathy, disregard for safety, poor behavorial controls, so on and so forth. This description fits Hamish perfectly. Hamish was also brilliant and came from a good family so the reader wonders how Hamish turned out this way. There's a lot of characterization for Hamish, but none of it particularly deep. Part of the reason is that almost the whole book is filled with journal entries, so we have Hamish characterizing himself. He doesn't let the reader in as much as is necessary to start sympathizing with him, and because of this Hamish remains pretty shallow, in my opinion.
I loved that Violence 101 took place in New Zealand and was written by a New Zealander. I think this is the first book I've read that fits both of these characteristics. I loved learning a little about New Zealand culture and words (there's a handy glossary in the back for the words Americans might not understand). There were also some footnotes about the school system so that was nice, too. In addition, some of the characters are Maori, which is the native New Zealand people (comparable to our Native Americans). There was some information on them too and another glossary full of Maori words. I loved all the cultural learning that came along with Violence 101.

As for the plot, it was somewhat lacking. A lot of the story is Hamish's journal entries, so there's a lot of backstory. Nothing really happens until the end, in which Hamish fulfills the sociopathic characteristic of "disregard for safety." It's not really a big reveal or anything but I won't say anything more.

All in all, Violence 101 could be a better book if there weren't so many journal entries, but Hamish proved to be an interesting character and maybe the first violent (and sort of creepy) character I've read in YA.

Rating: 5 out of 10.
Release Date: Today!
FTC: I received this book from the publisher.

2010/ Putnam Juvenile/240 pages.

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