The Unknown Assassin #1: The Hit by Allen Zadoff (Orchard Books)

I share my thoughts on Allen Zadoff’s The Hit (formerly entitled Boy Nobody), a gripping young adult thriller, published by Orchard Books in both the USA and the UK.

Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn’t stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend’s family to die — of “natural causes.” Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target.

When his own parents died of not-so-natural causes at the age of eleven, Boy Nobody found himself under the control of The Program, a shadowy government organization that uses brainwashed kids as counter-espionage operatives. But somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the boy he once was, the boy who wants normal things (like a real home, his parents back), a boy who wants out. And he just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program’s next mission.

I’m a huge fan of good thrillers. There’s a reason why I love Jason Bourne and Person Of Interest so much, and I’ve read 20 of James Patterson’s Alex Crossnovels. They’re fun. They’re entertaining. But one thing that I have not actually read much of is young adult thrillers, preferring to lean more towards the science fiction and fantasy genre that often comes with YA. In fact, I can name only two thriller series that I read off the top of my head that is aimed at young adults, and that’s Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series and CHERUB by Robert Muchamore. There’s probably a few more that I’ve forgotten, but when I saw Allen Zadoff’s The Hit (also entitled Boy Nobody, but I will refer to it in this review as The Hit because that’s the edition that I read) crop up on NetGalley, I knew I had to read it especially with all the positive praise I’ve been hearing. And it certainly didn’t disappoint, turning out to be one of the strongest young adult novels that I’ve read in a while.

Boy Nobody is the name of the main protagonist. He takes on cover identities every time he goes to a new high school, a new town, impersonating different people depending on what the task might acquire for him. Ever since the age of twelve when his parents died (of causes that totally weren’t natural), he’s been part of the Program, a government organization. This latest mission takes him to kill none other than the Mayor of New York, and in order to do that, he’s going to have to befriend his daughter, Sam, in order to get closer to the Mayor to complete his task. However, to make things more complicated, Boy Nobody is wanting to get out of the system. He doesn’t want in anymore, and the lingering doubts are starting to come more and more to the surface.

I mentioned Jason Bourne in the first paragraph and if you’re a fan of either the novels or the show then you’ll enjoy The Hit/Boy Nobody. It’s fast paced, energetic and haunting. Much like most young adult novels it’s a quick read, but unlike most young adults there’s this lingering feeling that will stick around after you’ve read it. Most are quickly forgettable, but that’s not the case with The Hit, because Allen Zadoff has crafted a very powerful character and we get some great insight into his mind and what makes the seemingly cold-hearted teenager tick.

Having been trained as an assassin since he was sixteen, this is very different from your usual young adult novel. Most books feature the main character being thrown into circumstances with their normal life upended. However, with The Hit, it’s the other way around. Boy Nobody, the assassin, is blending into the normal environment in a way that most normal kids don’t notice him. He won’t stand out. You won’t notice him and you won’t care much when he’s gone. Even those who do get to know more about him than his name will probably not remember much about him in the weeks afterwards. He’s a ghost. Chameleon. It’s certainly unlike most young adult novels that I’ve read before, sharing a lot of similarities to the more adult thrillers, and with some well written prose that blends some good character development with some pretty good action that keeps you hooked.

And the book also has the added benefit of not falling into the standard clichés that you’d expect from a young adult novel. Even the man female protagonist, Sam (Samara) is a welcome breath of fresh air when it comes to naive female protagonists in YA. She’s smart, intelligent and doesn’t let anybody cross her. And on top that, she’s got secrets of her own, too. It’s an interesting mix of main characters with both being well rounded with their own strengths and weaknesses. And if you’re tired of people falling instantly in love, well, good news. That doesn’t happen here either. So there’s certainly a lot of ticked boxes that helps this novel rise above the average young adult thriller.

The Hit therefore, is an addictive, compulsory and entertaining read, with the only real negative thing is that I don’t have the second book on me to delve into immediately , because this is one of those books that will beg you to go onto the next one as soon as you’ve finished. It’s just too good not to read more, and I can see this quickly becoming one of the finer YA novels of 2015, even if it is only February. So if this sounds like your thing (and it should), then go and check out The Hit. You won’t be disappointed.

VERDICT: 8.9/10



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