by April Henry
Your Adult, 224 pages.
Putnam Juvenile (2009)
Ellie is caught between her love for her aging activist parents and her hot new boyfriend Coyote, a member of the radical MEDs or Mother Earth Defenders. To save her parents from drug charges brought on by the FBI, she has to infiltrate the MEDs and alert the authorities if they ever target a human victim. In the ultimate high-stakes adventure, she has to figure out her ideals, define her friends and expose her enemies before they wipe her from the face of the planet they’re so feverishly protecting.
April Henry is very good at suspense. Go figure: many of her previous books have been mysteries and thrillers. Now she tries on a romance with a very interesting subject matter. The teens in this book belong to a group of Hummer dealership-torching, tree-sitting, corporation-hating idealists whose convictions and passions blur the line between justice and domestic terrorism, at least in the eyes of the FBI.
When Ellie is given her assignment — to rat on a dangerous and powerful organization or see her parents locked up for growing weed — the stakes jump sky high and don’t come back down until the explosive climax.
What really struck me about this book is how Ellie’s character changes and shifts over time. As she gets more and more caught up in Coyote and her MEDs activities, her outlook on the world evolves in a completely honest way. It is clear throughout that she is trying to establish her own ideology and, just like the other members of the group, takes it either too far or not far enough at times.
TORCHED was a very enjoyable, fast-paced read that delved deep into the kind of notorious organization that makes international headlines for more than just its Arbor Day tree planting picnics. Henry tackles a timely, newsy topic with such believable insider knowledge, I could swear she is an FBI plant herself.
Released in March, TORCHED is a look at all sides of activism, from the most hopeful and altruistic facets, to the darkest and most desperate. Pick up a copy today! Links: Amazon, Shop Indie Bookstores
For Readers: Everyone has looked at the world and wanted to change it: to do more, see more done or take drastic action. No matter the cause. The people in TORCHED act on these impulses and go overboard, putting themselves and others in extreme danger. But Henry doesn’t make any judgments, she lets the characters grapple with their personal philosophies for better or worse. For any teens passionate about social issues or politically aware, this is a really interesting and in-depth take on one girl’s experience with environmental extremism. This book isn’t just for hippies or Greenpeace supporters, however. It’s a book for anyone who has known moments of frustration and powerlessness against huge obstacles, and for anyone who has had to make the difficult decision to do what is right, whatever that murky word might mean to them.
For Writers: Short of climbing a rope and living in a tree for a few nights, I have no idea how Henry got such intimate knowledge about what life up there would’ve been like for Ellie and Coyote. There are many sharply observed and realistic moments in this book and I’m impressed by this author’s research. She also — and this is key — writes about social issues without getting preachy or mounting a soapbox. Many books with a political or social justice theme tend to represent things as black or white. There are characters like this here, but Coyote, Ellie and her parents are testament to the fact that life is always shades of gray. Kudos to Henry for writing a well-researched, thoughtful book that opens up a person’s opinion and understanding of activism. So many other others would tackle this charged subject and accomplish the opposite effect.