Max is spending his summer at a camp for boys obsessed with technology… again. Last year it was a fat camp for boys. It alternates even though he is neither addicted to computer or food. The only difference is that this year Ariel, his new 15-year-old adopted brother and the sole survivor of his small Middle Eastern village, is accompanying him. Their time at the camp is woven between the travels of a schizophrenic bomber and the late diaries of a nineteenth century Arctic expedition.
I think I’m in the same boat as everyone else for this book. What the heck did I just read.
It’s confusing. It’s weird. It’s hard to readily see any real themes or find messages hidden behind sly masturbation references or the ridiculousness of a suicidal genetically engineered crow. Named Alex. The perspectives mix up the reader and don’t seem to have many threads that connect them all. The characters border on gruesome, the events are disgusting, the boys are not the same masculine eye candy that speckles the rest of young adult literature.
And yes, it doesn’t have really any female characters. Well, there’s one. She’s a scientist who works with Max and Ariel’s dad and runs the boys’ camp. Oh, and she also is researching a way to eradicate all males to formulate a world dominated by females. So there’s that.
But if you let the weirdness wash over you and looked past the seemingly jumbled plot and strange characters then the message becomes clear. All men are stupid.
No, seriously. And this seems ironic considering the upheaval that was going on with Andrew Smith being sexist because of his lack of female characters. But maybe that’s one of the reasons he writes about mostly males. This book definitely focused on the failures of men. From the failed expedition to the camp for half-deranged and completely technology-obsessed boys, it doesn’t leave any of the bad or ugly stuff out. It’s about the control that they crave and their drive toward success that usually makes things worse– hence our poor friend Alex.
And then you look at the plot on the surface and once you accept the weird and learn to love all the perspectives, even if the characters aren’t the most lovable, you find the little Easter eggs. You find how the Arctic voyage ties to the father’s job and how the melting man bomber crosses paths with the boys at camp.
I heard Andrew Smith talk about this book and Grasshopper Jungle. He explained how Grasshopper Jungle begins with one point, one point that holds everything important, and explodes. The Alex Crow begins with everything and everyone and boils down into one point that has everything.
Smith always makes you think. No matter the book, despite all its ridiculousness, its full of wit and excitement and characters that are pushing through issues and growing in themselves and in the world, and this book is no exception.