I was such a fan of Lawrence Hill after reading "The Book of Negroes" and hearing him speak. However, I was incredibly disappointed in this novel.
It is a timely subject, and I did get a sense of what it would be like to be "illegal". Having a runner for the protagonist seemed like a good idea. But...
Let's talk about the characters. They came and went. I didn't get all of the characters established in my mind early in the story and was always having to think - who is this? They didn't seem real. I never got to really know them.
Thinking back, I wish I had been able to connect more because there certainly was a range of interesting characters. But even Keita, the protagonist, wasn't developed enough to fully connect with him. I enjoyed Ivernia Beech. She added some lightness and humour to a very 'heavy' story.
The novel takes place on two small islands in the Indian ocean, Zantoroland and Freedom State (certainly a play on the word 'free'). Both countries have corrupt governments and the novel is full of blackmail, bribes, beatings and killings. Guns are involved in the final violent scene taking place in the office of the prime minister of "Freedom State".
Some of the characters had great promise. John Falconer was in grade nine and was making a documentary. He certainly was central to the story, but his character was also not well-developed.
The characters were flat, the plot was bizarre, the setting was unreal. The language was pedestrian (lacking inspiration or excitement; dull).
I meet with a group of friends to discuss the Canada Reads books in advance of the Canada Reads discussions. I realized while discussing this book why I didn't enjoy it. The book is not based on character, plot, setting or language - all the things that I look for and enjoy. This novel is really a 'message' book.