Author: Chris Howard

Publication: 2012, Scholastic

Pages: 326

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Banyan is a tree builder. He uses scrap metal and other bits of discarded junk to build trees for the rich in a world where all the trees and plants have been dead for over a century. The only thing that still grows is corn – genetically modified to withstand the attacks of the voracious flesh eating locusts.

Banyan’s father was taken the year before, and he’s been doing his best to survive ever since. But everything changes when he meets a woman with a strange tattoo – a clue to the location of the last living trees on earth, and the place where his father is being held.

But to get there he’ll have to cross the wastes – a land ruled by pirates, poachers, and locusts.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: Howard has created a mesmerizing world – all choking dust, steel, and slavers. While he never goes into detail about what happened, he doesn’t really need to. All we have to know is that the world has gone to environmental hell, and he’s tossed us right into the midst of it. And one of the things that brings that hellish world to life so beautifully is Banyan’s job. Only in a world so scarred and terrible could people turn to rusty metal facsimile’s of a tree for comfort – for a pale and distant reminder of something none of them have ever seen.

What I Liked the Least: A small point, but Banyan quite frequently uses a nail gun as a weapon. He even shoots a man in the head with it. In point of fact, you can’t use a nail gun as a projectile weapon. The safety features built into a nail gun mean it has to be pressing against something in order to fire. That’s not a big deal, but it’s one of those basic facts any good writer should catch.

Another minor point relates to the locusts. They live in massive swarms, immune to cold and just about everything else. And the only reason the corn is able to survive is because the kernels are inedible until they’ve been cooked. Fine, but for some reason the locusts still live out in the corn and nowhere else – and they don’t eat the stalks or the leaves. That didn’t make much sense. Why not eat the leaves? And if they don’t eat the leaves, why stay in the corn at all? Why don’t they just spread out across the earth eating the only thing left for them to eat – people?

Something I’m conflicted about: Towards the climax, when Banyan has discovered the trees, he finds himself in a desperate situation and makes a series of decisions that I found extremely hard to justify. His choices added a huge layer of complexity to the story – and it’s part of the reason the ending will continue to haunt me for some time to come– and yet the choices he made felt so reprehensible I found it hard to cheer him on. I wanted him to fail as much as I wanted him to win. I was utterly engaged, and at the same time furious with the main character.

How Good was the Action? Fast and bloody. My only complaint was that there were times when Banyan seemed able to do too damn much in the amount of time available – like when he sees a group of pirates on the horizon and manages to bury most of his supplies before they reach him. But those were incidental moments and didn’t take away from the overall intensity of the action. This isn’t a non-stop thrill ride, and it’s not intended to be. But the moments of action that do take place are both violent and intense.

How Engaging was the Story? Howard draws you in, and once you care about Banyan and his journey, he tosses you through an intense series of twists and turns – killing off characters and constantly throwing new challenges in Banyan’s path. The only certainty is that whenever Banyan begins to feel happy or comfortable a new change is coming to tear his world apart.

Overall Assessment: A frightening post-apocalyptic tale about a ravaged world where sculptures of discarded scrap metal provide the only hint of beauty, where all the food and wealth is controlled by a single company, and where the only hope for salvation is found on a mysterious tattoo inked into the body of a woman suffering from amnesia. It will scare you and enrage you, but once done you won’t easily be able to forget it.

Profanity: Yes. It’s not on every page, but it is there.

Sex: Some kissing and more than a bit if longing.

Violence: Without question. People are eaten by locusts, shot in the head with nails, tortured, and more. It’s a violent world, and Howard doesn’t try to shield us from that.

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