Homelanders, by Andrew Klavan. Published by Thomas Nelson in four parts: The Last Thing I Remember (2009), The Long Way Home (2010), The Truth of the Matter (2010), and The Final Hour (2011). Age/interest
If that’s not an opening sentence calculated to get a teenager reading, I don’t know what is. A lot of teenagers are reading the Homelanders series, and their parents as well—some of them because they know the author from his adult novels. But Homelanders is his first series for young adults, and his first published by Thomas Nelson. Because of the publisher, Christian parents may assume they’re all right but still wonder how edifying they are.
Klavan is an interesting man: born into a Jewish family in New York, son of a well-known radio DJ, Andrew decided he was an agnostic liberal early on. But sometime after becoming a best-selling author, with two of his thrillers made into movies, he became a conservative Christian. His adult novel, Empire of Lies, echoes that conversion. Charting his spiritual journey in a 2009 WORLD Magazine interview with Marvin Olasky, he said, “Eventually I saw that the pillars of the secular consensus—scientism, materialism, rationalism—were all made of sand. Whereas the deeper I went into the experience of God, the more I found, you know, life in abundance.”
So, how edifying are the Homelander books? As much as the genre allows. The protagonist, Charlie West, is 17 when the series begins: a clean-living kid, good student, God-fearer, and black belt in karate. His biggest problem is gaining the confidence to talk to dream-girl Beth Summers and not sound like an idiot, but progress on that front has been encouraging lately. In an optimistic state of mind, he goes to sleep one night and wakes up, not only strapped to the aforementioned chair, but surrounded by instruments of torture, covered in blood, and separated by a single door from unfamiliar voices receiving orders to kill him. He tries to orient himself by recalling the day before, in a series of flashbacks that alternate with his escape from immediate peril. When he finally reaches civilization, he thinks he can take a breather and figure out who was responsible for capturing and torturing him—only to find that the police are after him, too.
This is one tough kid. The odds against him are stacked up so high we can’t see the top, but he always escapes by means of wit and strength and providence—and a little help from friends, some of whom he doesn’t even know. Klavan manages to balance suspense and satisfaction, in that each installment of the series pays off in revelation while leaving the greatest mysteries unsolved until the very end. One complaint might be that they’re too simplistic, another that they’re too formulaic. One reviewer described the formula this way: Charlie gets captured, remembers a little more, escapes. Repeat twice for each volume. It’s not exactly realistic, but that’s what makes a “thriller” thrilling: perilous situations, hair-breadth escapes, escalating danger.
The “simplistic” complaint needs a paragraph of its own. Charlie is such a straight arrow some adults find him almost boring. Where’s the nuance? In the stripped-down situations where he finds himself, there’s no time for it. He does endure periods of despair, of doubting God and the United States and everything he’s ever been taught, but at the right moment something always happens to assure him he’s not alone and the battle is worth fighting. The very first time he wakes up in a strange room with an aching body and no idea how he got there, the words of Winston Churchill are his lifeline: Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—when the chips are down, simplicity wins out over nuance every time. Never give in will keep a homeland defender at his post, and a heartland teenager on his quest, while philosophical discourses on the relative virtues of one side versus the other and the historical roots of grievance will only fritter away an individual’s resolve.
A common refrain in the reader reviews is that you won’t be able to put this book down once you’ve started. For most readers, of both sexes, I would say that’s true. The extra payoff is that most readers who reach The Final Hour will have learned something about courage and determination as well.
Homelanders is an obvious winner for boys, but girls like them too. For more ideas on arousing male literary interest, see Stalking the Elusive Boy Reader and the related links.