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The Alex crow

New York, New York : Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, [2015]
Physical Description:
317 pages ; 22 cm
The story of Ariel, a Middle Eastern refugee who lives with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber, the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century, and a depressed, bionic reincarnated crow.


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On Order



" Andrew Smith is the Kurt Vonnegut of YA . . . [Smith's novels] are the freshest, richest, and weirdest books to hit the YA world in years." -- Entertainment Weekly

Skillfully blending multiple story strands that transcend time and place, award-winning Grasshopper Jungle author Andrew Smith chronicles the story of Ariel, a refugee who is the sole survivor of an attack on his small village. Now living with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, Ariel's story is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber and the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century . . . and a depressed, bionic reincarnated crow.

Author Notes

Andrew Smith knew ever since his days as editor of his high school newspaper that he wanted to be a writer. His books include the Michael L. Printz Honor-winning Grasshopper Jungle and Winger . Smith prefers the seclusion of his rural Southern California setting, where he lives with his family.

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-On his 14th birthday, Ariel narrowly escapes execution by a rebel military group overseas, and makes his way to a refugee camp. In 1880, a ship becomes trapped in polar ice, threatening the lives of the crew. Scientists give an extinct bird new life. Female sperm may make males unnecessary. The melting man is instructed to kill. Max regales other campers with descriptive phrases for self-gratification. From this handful of chaotic and seemingly unrelated story lines, Smith pulls together the story of Ariel and Max, their adventures at Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, and the truth behind the Alex Division of a creepy corporation. Smith asks readers to stomach meanness, pain, boners, piss, pus, marijuana, alcohol, bullying, and worse, though he seeds the story with moments of genuine humor and hope. Narrator MacLeod Andrews succeeds in making the sometimes-disconcerting story a pleasure to hear, with a nuanced and surprisingly soothing delivery, even in the most uncomfortable portions. VERDICT The dark plot and nonlinear narrative will not be for everyone. Consider where Smith's "Marbury Lens" books (Feiwel & Friends) and Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers (Little, Brown, 2012) have a following.-Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Careful listening reveals connections between the four disparate stories in Smith's latest. First is that of a 14-year-old boy, Ariel, who survives the bombing of his home amid a civil war (in an unnamed country) and is bought to America as a refugee. Then there is the tale of the 19th-century Arctic expedition on the ship The Alex Crow and what the crew finds in the ice along the way. There are the travails of Leonard Fountain, an insane man driving across the American South on a mission of destruction. And finally the story of Ariel, now in America (in the present), and his new brother, Max, at the odd Camp Merrie Seymour for Boys. The text could make for an audio nightmare: four different stories, each with multiple characters, taking place in diverse locations and times, as the narrative jumps between them. But Andrews avoids confusion by immediately grounding the listener in the proper place. He does amazing vocal gymnastics, creating voices that are frightened, bold, cocky, confident, confused, charming, formal, warm, and dangerous. Listeners will easily find themselves immersed in the story. Ages 14-up. A Dutton hardcover. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Ariel, a war refugee, and his adoptive brother, Max, are sent to Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, not because they have an addiction to technology like the other campers but because their father works for the Merrie-Seymour Research Group, resurrecting extinct species and corrupting existing ones (and its free for them to attend). Additional narrative threads cover a nineteenth-century Arctic expedition and the cross-country trip of a delusional, raving lunatic, and while it is slightly disorienting to switch among them all in the beginning, reader Andrews uses his narration expertly to differentiate each thread. Ariels voice is pitch perfect -- earnest, timid, and reflective. It makes him the perfect straight man to observe the hilarious banter between the campers, and yet there are notes of poignancy as he discloses his own heartbreaking story. jonathan hunt (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Three stories wind round one another in unexpected ways in this science-fiction offering peppered with recurring symbols.Fifteen-year-old Ariel Burgess survived a nightmarish attack on his home village by hiding in a refrigerator. He was taken in by a family in Virginia, and to his chagrin, he has now been packed off along with his adoptive brother, Max, to stay at Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a free perk his family receives for the work done by their inventor father for a research group. A multitude of strange and grimly funny characters populates the camp, including Mrs. Nussbaum, a prim therapist whose forced cheer is at one point hilariously described as being "about one-half-octave above drunkenly enthusiastic' and just below the sound baby dolphins make" and who offers the first hint that all may not be as it seems. Two other narrative threadsone involving a ship called the Alex Crow stuck in the ice during the 1800s and the other detailing the madness of a character called the "melting man," who hears various voices urging him to commit acts of violenceare juxtaposed against Ariel and Max's story, smartly weaving their ways into it right up to the surprising conclusion. Magnificently bizarre, irreverent and bitingly witty, this outlandish novel is grounded by likable characters and their raw experiences. (Science fiction. 14 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Ariel, a refugee from an unnamed, war-torn country, has been adopted by the Burgesses, and he and the Burgesses' son, Max, have been sent to a camp for boys addicted to electronics (even though they're not). The camp is owned by the company where their father works as a scientist in the Alex division, an arm of the company dedicated to, among other things, resurrecting extinct animals and creating biodrones, animals (people included) implanted with surveillance hardware. Ariel is reluctant to speak out loud, fearing that he will burden others with his painful stories, but his stark narrative, both of life at camp and of the harrowing details of how he came to the U.S., reveals a startling depth of character. Interspersed with Ariel's story are the nineteenth-century journal entries from one of the founding members of the Alex division and his first experiments in de-extinction, and the bizarre narrative of the crazily unraveling Lenny, one of the first biodrones, whose hallucinations lead him to commit grotesque acts. Smith is a spiritual heir to Kurt Vonnegut, and that's especially clear in this novel science fiction, the horrors of war, the cruelty of violence, ribald humor (in particular, Max's impressive and witty list of euphemisms for masturbation), and the vagaries of memory combine in a deeply affecting, sometimes disturbing, but ultimately hopeful way.--Hunter, Sarah Copyright 2015 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ANDREW SMITH was awarded a 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor for "Grasshopper Jungle," a novel about giant praying mantises with libidos like teenage boys, and a teenage boy with a libido like . . . well, a teenage boy. So it makes perfect sense that he has produced another tale with premises just as ridiculous. Thankfully, "The Alex Crow" proves once again that Smith does ridiculous better than most. Ariel, an orphaned 15-year-old refugee from a war-torn village in an unspecified nation, finds himself on the other side of the world in Sunday, W.Va. His adoption into an American family - the Burgesses - has come after a year of trauma. But the Burgesses serve as a new beginning: There's Max, his reluctant new brother, also 15; Natalie, his Stepford-like new mother; and Jake, his new father, a scientist who "invented" the family pet - a crow named Alex. Not just any crow: an extinct species refashioned into an artificially intelligent, suicidal version of itself, to be used and manipulated by humans. The only thing weirder than Ariel's adopted household is his first experience at summer camp - Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a rehabilitation center for technologically addicted young men. Neither Ariel nor Max suffers from said addiction. They are sent to the camp only because it's free (a benefit of Jake's job), and their parents think it will foster much-needed bonding between the new brothers. At least that's how Ariel and Max see it. Once there, the story spins into a tornado of male adolescence. Smith's depiction of summer camp is kooky and perverse - more like the way kids talk about camp to each other than the way they talk about it to their parents. Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys is a dank, sweaty, hormonal stew pot, where boys teeter constantly on the precipice of fist-fighting and conversations aren't conversations unless they're riddled with twisted masturbation metaphors like "punching the clown" and "midnight woodworking." And it's all brilliant, because as it turns out, "The Alex Crow" isn't about summer camp at all. It isn't about boy fantasies and erection jokes. What the novel really pokes at with its oddball camp/family plot - which is bolstered, by the way, by two parallel narratives, one about an Arctic expedition gone wrong, the other about a psychotic bomber who's constantly bullied by the Joseph Stalin in his head - is the destruction brought on by the obsession with control and power. In all three narratives, we see hubris, manipulation, brutality, the perpetuation of a ludicrous pecking order, and the glaring absence of women with any nuance. There is, however, a Mrs. Nussbaum, the camp psychologist who also happens to be the author of "Male Extinction: The Case for an Exclusively Female Species." It's pretty clear, that is, that Smith is performing a kind of exposé of male-dominated society, and pointing toward its impending doom. Though "The Alex Crow" is dark in its details, Smith somehow finds a way to bring balance and even a glint of salvation, weaving sensitivity and compassion into a seemingly ice-cold tale. With the same effort he puts into absurdity, he creates palpable moments of intimacy, most evidently between Ariel and Max. Themes such as the importance of human connection - of sharing the weight of the experiences compiled in one's mental library - and the question of trustworthiness and secret-telling tilt the book back toward the center and give it heart. In Camp Merrie-Seymour for Boys, a strange place where young men are ultimately forced to depend on one another, Smith has created a masterly finger-wag to the gospel of technology, along with a nod to the gods of direct interpersonal communication and relationship building. "The Alex Crow" is relentlessly creative, all the way to the end, but it's not painless. There were some confusing moments as I tried to keep up with all that was happening. A few other passages left me slack-jawed and embarrassed. Still others left me uncomfortable and emotional and wondering what exactly would make someone write a book like this, each page more preposterous - and more gripping - than the last. And therein lies the brilliance of Andrew Smith. He somehow always finds a way to turn the reader inside out, by grounding the farcical or turning mad science and vomit into art. JASON REYNOLDS is the author of the novels "When I Was the Greatest" and "The Boy in the Black Suit."