IA: Initiate by John Darryl Winston
Thirteen year old Naz and his nine year old sister, Mari, have lost their parents and their home, now living with an apathetic foster mother and raising themselves. Naz takes good care of Mari even as odd things start happening to him; hearing voices, special powers, and too much attention from a local gang of troublesome boys. This is a good story, but there are a lot of unanswered questions left hanging at the end. If this bothers you, you may want to wait until the next book is published before picking up this one.
Publisher’s Description: IA: Initiate is a supernatural thriller set in the mean streets of America. A seemingly random act of gang violence sends “Naz” Andersen on a quest to find answers surrounding his dead parents that lead to a series of discoveries about his supernatural abilities.
Naz tries to stay out of the way at his foster parent’s home, but he walks in his sleep, and he is unable to keep the fact that he hears voices from his therapist. He attempts to go unnoticed at school and in the streets of the Exclave, but attracts the attention of friends and bullies alike, and his efforts to protect his little sister make him the target of malicious bullying by the notorious street gang, Incubus Apostles.
Naz is an ordinary thirteen-year-old, or so he thinks. He harbors a secret that even he is oblivious to, and a series of ill-fated events reveal to him telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Now he must navigate newly found friendship and gang violence, and face the full force of the world around him. The only way he can survive is to discover the supernatural world within.
Possibility of spoilers beyond this point.
Ooh, those were interesting, and a little confusing. I really wanted to hear more about Dr. Andersen’s work, and I was bummed that we didn’t learn more by the end of the story. I assume Andersen’s wife was Naz’s mom and she was pregnant with Naz?
That’s my guess. I wanted to know what happened to Dr. Andersen—where is he now? I was disappointed we didn’t learn that. Speaking of Naz, I really liked how the author never revealed his given birth name. It contributed to the intrigue of Naz’s past and origins.
After a while, I forgot that Naz’s name wasn’t really Naz, because that’s what he called himself. Naz sure seemed older than thirteen. Not having much with experience with kids, I wondered if a thirteen year old boy would be as mature as Naz seemed to be. Some of his actions and responses seemed really adult.
I’ve read a lot of books for this age group, and I thought it was okay. As the hero, Naz needs to be more advanced than his peer group. Also, part of his backstory is that he may be genetically modified to be an advanced human, so it didn’t feel like a disconnect to me. That being said, I thought he and his sister had some interesting morality discussions. For instance, when they were playing chess and discussing the past, Naz explains to Meri what “anticipate” means. I felt that the author was using this platform to bring home the point of the unanswerable question of why bad things happen to good people.
Oh, I see what you mean. There is another part where Naz talked about violence not being the answer to conflict, which was surprisingly mature given the violence he faces in his life constantly. I’m guessing that was the author giving the readers a message as well.
Overall, I came to care about the characters, but I have to say, I was really bothered by the number of questions that were left hanging. Like, what did Dr. Andersen do to Naz? What are the voices he was hearing? Who was the man in the car who seemed to be watching Naz? Who was the chess master? Why did the gang know who he was? And, why are the gang and the Academy both called IA? What’s the connection? The ending of the book took me by surprise because I was waiting for the answers.
Me too! I thought it was a series. When I finished the book, I immediately went to get the second one. I was MAD that it doesn’t exist yet. I sure hope that it’s available soon; it’s been over a year since this one was published.
Invested Ivana says…
What I liked: For the most part, this was an enjoyable story. I came to care about Naz and his sister, Meri. I love how Naz takes care of his sister and particularly like their relationship with the Market Merchants. The book places Naz and Meri in a very real situation — their parents dead, themselves in foster care with an apathetic caregiver — and yet the book doesn’t dwell on the situation. This really helped the author communicate how resilient Naz and Meri are; they aren’t dwelling on their situation, either. I enjoyed watching Naz come into his power–not just his special abilities, but his ability to speak up for himself and be heard.
What I’m not sure about: I don’t read a lot of young reader books, so it’s possible this is part of the genre of which I am unaware. But there were an awful lot of questions that were not answered in this book. Perhaps this wouldn’t bother a young reader, but it bothers me a bit.
- Is Naz sleepwalking or is he just moving things around with his mind?
- What did Dr. Andersen do to Naz to give him special abilities?
- Why does the gang want Naz? How do they even know about Naz?
- What’s the relationship between the International Academy (IA) and the Incubus Apostles (IA). And which one is Naz an initiate in? It doesn’t seem like he is an initiate in either at the end of the book.
- What is up with the Chess Master, Dr. Gwen, Mr. Fear, Harvis Young, and the girl at the drinking fountain? Without more to their story, I’m not sure why they were brought up. Dr. Gwen in particular doesn’t act like a typical counselor would act.
- What are the voices Naz is hearing? They don’t seem to be particularly helpful or informative.
I imagine some of these questions are left to be answered in the next book, and maybe this is part of how kids feel — they don’t have a lot of control over what happens in their lives or what answers they get. But without some explanations, it seems a collection of cool ideas that never get realized.
Theme: A boy with “psychic” abilities must determine his own path forward by figuring out where he came from.
What I Liked: The main character, Naz, seemed like a kid who was trying his best against tough odds. His relationship with his sister was fun and I really enjoyed how she kept him on his toes because she sometimes seemed more grown up then him. I also liked the setting with the entire Exclave community; that’s a glimpse of how bad things could get in our society if certain things don’t change, like redistribution of wealth, conservation of resources and increased tolerance of diversity.
What I Didn’t Like: The interludes with Cornelius Andersen/Cory Anders were confusing and didn’t seem to add to the story of where Naz came from and what was special about him. I also didn’t like the fact that Camille went from the wife of a well-respected academic to the wife of a criminal who beat her to death. I would like to know more about the change in her circumstances.
- Nature vs. Nurture?
- When is violence the answer?
- How is family defined and who do we include in our tribe?
- How do expectations limit our potential and can we overcome those limitations?
Recommend: I would definitely want to recommend this book once more of the series has been published.
If you like this book…