The Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs (Carolrhoda Books, Feb. 1st, 2013)-15 year old Shreveport (Shreve) Cannon is doing a 2 year stint in the Casimir Pulaski Juvenile Detention Center for Boys for stealing a neighbor’s truck, which ended in a barrage of bullets (from the neighbor’s gun.) The momentary urge to get away from his alcoholic mom and the rundown trailer park that made up his life was just too strong, and he’s paying for it. However, Casimir isn’t so bad. After all, he’s got a great racket dealing candy, three square meals a day, and he doesn’t have to take care of his mom, or endure her volatile temper. He does miss his little brother, Vig, but there’s nothing he can do about that. He even has an uneasy understanding with Assistant Warden Horace Booth. Life at Casimir has its own easy rhythm for Shreve, until he gets a new roommate.
13 year old Jack Graves is quiet and withdrawn, and more different than Shreve ever imagined. Jack has 6 fingers on each hand, but that’s not what makes him so different. When Jack gets upset, or angry and holds those hands out, you’d better take cover, because all hell is about to break loose, and as for Jack’s power, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Soon Jack is visited by Mr. Quincrux and his rather creepy, and hungry, assistant. Quincrux wants one thing: Jack, and he’ll stop at nothing to get him. The problem is that Shreve has grown pretty fond of Jack, and he’s not going to let him go without a fight, even if Quincrux can crawl into a person’s mind and command them like a meat puppet. The boys are bustin’ out of Casimir, and are on the run for their lives, because Quincrux’s influence is wide, and very, very deep.
While reading this one, I frequently thought of The Talisman, by Stephen King. Not because the boys travel to a completely different world (they don’t), but they are very young boys on their own and they must use their wits, and in Shreve’s case, newfound talents, to keep themselves in food and transportation. Plus, there’s a Jack in both books, but I digress… Soon after leaving Casimir, Shreve discovers that Quincrux accidently left him with a little “gift” after taking over his mind, and he struggles with using this new power, even if it’s to get him and Jack out of trouble, or help someone. Jack begins to learn control of his powers (things explode-I’ll let you discover the rest) and one thing Shreve does know is there is something dark and vast waiting for them, something even the seemingly fearless Quincrux is afraid of, and he has no idea where they’ll go to escape his vast network of eyes and ears.
Told in Shreve’s wry, wise-beyond-his-years voice, The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a supernatural tale, but it’s ultimately about the friendship between Shreve and Jack and the bonds that form between two boys who really have no family to go home to. They do have each other, and Shreve’s protectiveness of Jack is endearing, but by the end of the novel, Jack is no longer a crumpled shell of a boy. John Hornor Jacobs captured the voice of a street smart, sarcastic, 15 year old boy perfectly and as usual, his writing is like a song (touched every now and then with crashing cymbals and pounding bass.) There’s plenty of action and conflict to keep the boys occupied, but the author never lets us forget about the wonder of childhood and how much these boys long for normal, when they’re anything but. The man manages to make a Wiffleball game at sunset break your heart. Terrifying, unique, and at times, tender, The Twelve-Fingered Boy will leave you wanting more from Shreve and Jack and their world (and that’s a good thing.)