This is a searingly exciting book with a particularly gripping opening and ending. Leah Jackson is a student of the future – a future in which children from impecunious and troubled families are isolated in Youth Opportunity (You Op)Academies and essentially denied the benefits of higher education and social mobility. The narrative voice is Jackson’s and the vernacular she uses throughout adds authenticity and immediacy, allowing readers to experience events and her reactions to them in a raw and unfiltered way.
We are plunged immediately into a siege – students calling themselves The Eternal Knights rampage through the school, now in irreversible lockdown, killing indiscriminately and taking both staff and students as hostages. This is graphic writing and not for the faint-hearted: Mussi does not indulge in gratuitous horror but instead allows us both to see at first hand the results of equipping disaffected and unstable teenage boys with guns, and Leah’s attempts to cope with the outcomes in a practical or even pragmatic way.
First and foremost, Leah is determined to survive but as her moral compass extends she tries to save her friends. Mussi avoids bathos and instead drives Leah on by means of a primeval sense of self-preservation and the desire to continue to care for her wayward brother, even though he has become a member of The Eternal Knights. Her relationship with another You Op, Anton, also sustains her and this is delicately played out, the more affecting for it.
At the book’s climax, a government conspiracy to destroy the school – and the You Op infrastructure – is revealed. This comes as no real shock to the reader, since Leah has been working this out for herself – Mussi cleverly planting the seeds of the betrayal throughout the story. However, the poignancy of Leah’s realisation that she must try to save others and her determination that her school should succeed, makes the government’s cynical actions all the more sickening.
The ending of the book is a master stroke: unexpected, chillingly stark and, like the rest of the book, utterly memorable.