Know how much I wanted to read this book? I bought it. (Alas, my local library system doesn't own it and I never got an advance copy.) Not only that, I paid retail for it. I don't remember the last time I paid retail for a book. I have to say, this was well worth every cent.
Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith (FSG, 2009)
The premise: Fourteen-year-old Alex has led a life of petty crime for the past two years, stealing money and valuables from empty houses. Stealing gives him a thrill, until the night he and his friend Toby break into the wrong house. Alex and Toby are caught not by the cops, but by three men who seem to be right out of a sci-fi movie. To Alex's horror, they kill Toby and frame Alex for his murder. And there's no standard juvenile detention facility for Alex, either. He's sent to serve his sentence in Furnace, the worst correctional facility since Camp Green Lake. It's a state-of-the-art prison built a mile underground into solid rock. No sunlight, minimal air, no fresh water.
The worst part of Furnace isn't the heat, or the tiny cell, or even the prison gangs. It's the monster skinless dogs who can rip you to shreds in about five seconds. Or maybe it's the wheezers, who come during the night. Once they mark you, you're in for a fate worse than death. You won't find any senior citizen inmates in Furnace. No one lasts that long.
Alex refuses to give up on himself, no matter how bleak Furnace is. He clings to his innocence and he's determined to find a way out.
My personal thoughts: This book hits all of my favorite book buttons. First, an institutional setting. I don't know why, but I love books that take place in prisons and hospitals. Second, the action is bloody and unforgiving. Many Darren Shan references are made by both the author and the characters. Darren Shan is the first author I thought of when reading this book. Both authors use breakneck speed and incredibly creepy half-sized creatures, and neither shies away from describing every gory detail and injury. (Translation: This book is not for the faint of stomach.) They also both remember that a book can have all the blood and gore of all the Saw movies put together, but no reader is going to get past page ten if the protagonist doesn't have some heart and charm. No matter how frightened he is by the prison, Alex retains his sense of right and wrong. He is a thief, yes, but not a violent criminal. Nor is he someone who wishes ill on his fellow inmates or harm them without provocation. I wanted to see Alex succeed, but I also couldn't wait to see what kind of prison atrocity Smith would spring on us next. It's a page-turner, no doubt, and I almost wish I'd waited to read this until book 2 was out.
Lockdown is the first in a planned five-part series. I don't know if I can take the suspense!
Lockdown's page at Macmillan US || Alexander Gordon Smith's website || author interview at The Discriminating Fangirl || Jen Robinson's review