Rico Federico’s family, of mixed Spanish and Romany origins, is a copybook example of the hardworking immigrant family. His father is a builder and has worked diligently to establish his own independent business. Rico’s mother is an NHS nurse. Unlike most fifteen-year-olds, Rico is politically aware. He goes on demonstrations and doesn’t believe he should wait to espouse political causes until he is an adult.
Rico’s other talent is with computers. He’s a competent programmer and a small-time hacker. He is not a commercial hacker. He breaks into systems just for the thrill of getting in, not for gain.
At a demonstration Rico meets a man called Speech, well-dressed and well-spoken but prone to disappear into the crowd. A mutual friend of Speech and Rico has a birthday coming. Speech pays Rico handsomely to build a website for the friend without letting on what’s planned. However innocently, Rico is now taking money for secret activities.
At this point the reader begins to ask serious questions. Who and what is Speech? What are his undisclosed motives?
Speech now asks Rico a dangerous question. Can he break into the computer system of the local police station? The idea (says Speech) is just to embarrass the police – it’s to be a harmless stunt. What Rico doesn’t know is that this harmless stunt will be the cover for an act of serious terrorist intervention. If Rico is depicted as the chief architect of the whole plan, he will spend many years in prison.
Zephaniah’s work confronts the educator with a difficult problem. The verdict of history on terrorists is not always the same as today’s verdict. For thirty odd years of his life, Nelson Mandela was officially classified as a terrorist. Later he became probably the most respected person on the planet. Zephaniah tries to deliver tomorrow’s judgments today. A boy who may be convicted of terrorist crimes may be nothing but gullible – but the state won’t see it that way.
This is a book worth reading for pupils of the right age. But many adults will shrink from the task of delivering it to young readers. It is a dangerous read, as anyone familiar with its author will have expected. He does not go in for comfortable clichés.