Street Freaks

Although I used to be a big Terry Brooks fan back in the day, it's been over a decade since I last read anything by the author. I'm too far behind in the Shannara saga to give new installments a shot, so I've been waiting for him to write something new that I could sink my teeth into. When I received an advance reading copy of the forthcoming Street Freaks, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with Brooks. I was excited to be bringing the book with me on my roadtrip around Gaspésie. Unfortunately, it proved to be quite a chore to read and I finished it at a coffee shop in St-Jean-Port-Joli, glad to have finally gone through it. Indeed, there were times when I considered just giving up. But I was still on vacation with limited reading material and I elected to persevere.

Alas, nowhere in the cover blurb, the press release, and all the related online material was there any indication that this was a YA novel. Because make no mistake. Terry Brooks went into full YA mode for this one. Even worse, he went into young adolescent mode regarding certain aspects of the story. As you guys know, I'm not too keen on YA as a rule, and I wish I would have known beforehand. Because now my review would be decidedly lukewarm at best. If I'd known, I would have thanked them for the opportunity, but I would have passed on this one. Now, I like Shawn Speakman and I got in touch with him when I finished Street Freaks, wondering why this work wasn't billed as Young Adult material. I was afraid that this book could suffer from the same sort of backlash that really hurt the sales of C. S. Friedman's The Dreamwalker Chronicles.

You may recall that Dreamwalker was billed as a crossover novel. Something which included elements targetted to a teen audience, but also hopefully enough content and complexity that would please Friedman's adult audience. What I immediately realized when I started the book was that in style and tone it was a world away from the dark science fiction and fantasy series/novels Friedman has become renowned for. And no matter from which angle you looked at the plot, it was YA through and through. When I mentioned this, both Friedman and her editor requested that I kindly refrain from using the terms YA or young adult in my review of the book. The rationale was, understandably, that such a label could potentially alienate a good chunk of Friedman's readership. The problem with this strategy is that, if the online customers/readers' reviews are any indication, a vast number of people believing that they would experience more of Friedman's awesomeness felt cheated to have forked out their hard-earned money for what turned out to be a YA novel. In the end, Dreamwalker didn't perform as well as they had hoped for. Here was a YA title whose target audience was the extremely lucrative YA market. Yet there was no mention of it being a YA work, it was released by a non-YA publisher, and it wouldn't even appear in the YA section of bookstores around North America. Moreover, it received basically no coverage from YA resources. Hence, not only did the bulk of Friedman's long-time fans felt short-changed by this strategy, but the book's target audience was more or less never reached.

Speakman opine that at its heart, every single Terry Brooks book is YA. They all feature young main characters going against the big bad guy. According to him, the same was true regarding Street Freaks. I wholeheartedly disagreed with him, claiming that though the main characters are often young, the Shannara novels mostly dealt with adult themes. In Speakman's opinion, Street Freaks is probably the most adult thing Brooks has ever written. Well, it appears that we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. And I can't help but feel that hiding the fact that the novel is definitely YA is a little disingenuous.

Here's the blurb:

"Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks." his father directs Ashton Collins before the vid feed goes suddenly silent. The Red Zone is the dangerous heart of mega-city Los Angeles; it is a world Ash is forbidden from and one he knows little about. But if he can find Street Freaks, the strangest of aid awaits―human and barely human alike. As Ash is hunted, he must unravel the mystery left behind by his father and discover his role in this new world.

Brooks has long been the grandmaster of fantasy. Now he turns his hand to science fiction filled with what his readers love best: complex characters, extraordinary settings, exciting action, and a page-turning story. Through it, Brooks reimagines his bestselling career yet again.

I a nutshell, Street Freaks is a teenage version of The Fast and the Furious franchise meets Divergent meets The Goonies. The main plot revolves around an evil corporate empire illegally experimenting on children to produce means to help control the world's population. How someone who became a worldwide bestselling author by capturing the imagination of millions of readers came up with something so unoriginal and uninteresting, I'll never know. Basically all the concepts and ideas in this book have been recycled and reheated in the microwave. The finished product is bland and uninspired, by far the most lackluster book by Brooks that I have ever read. While it's true that adult themes such as corporate greed and sex (to a certain extent) are explored, Street Freaks is more about juvenile themes like friendship, the desire to fit in, first love, etc. The plotlines, the way characters act and talk, the way the main protagonist thinks and acts and reacts, the way everything is kind of black and white. Everything is YA. Through and through. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Yet I felt that Street Freaks should be billed as such.

If young readers are not necessarily the target audience, one has to wonder why Terry Brooks felt the need to dumb down and simplify everything. Why did the author feel the need to overexplain every idea and concept, why all the repetitions, why all the info-dumps?

The characterization was incredibly subpar. Ashton Collins doesn't have the appeal necessary to carry a novel on his shoulders. There is not a whole lot of character growth as far as he is concerned. Problem is, Ash spends the better part of the book hopelessly infatuated by a girl and the rest of it being worried about who he can trust and what he can do. Brooks keeps rehashing the same feelings and worries throughout Street Freaks, which makes Ash more annoying with each new chapter. Instead of caring for him and rooting for the guy, he's not the sharpest tool in the shed and one soon forgets his plight and wishes that there were other points of view through whose lenses we could see the tale unfold. Sadly, the rest of the cast is mostly comprised of two-dimensional teenage boys and girls that are little more than cardboard cutouts. The sole exceptions being Cay and Jenny, and I wish we could have learned more about them. When all is said and done, Ash taking center stage pretty much killed it for me.

The pace was decidedly uneven. Street Freaks started with a bang, but the plot quickly petered out. It took way too long for the truth about the Street Freak crew to be unveiled, methinks. And then there are action sequences and car races that were more or less unnecessary. Things finally pick up in the last third of the novel, heading toward a predictible endgame and a finale that you see coming from a mile away. With a villain that is happy to reveal the whole evil entreprise before being outfoxed by a bunch of kids, of course. Seriously, for readers aged between 12 and 15, Terry Brooks' Street Freaks would likely be a killer read.

In the end, as other reviews have pointed out, while Street Freaks is perfectly appropriate for a younger audience, I believe that it is a complete waste of time for a more mature one. Consider yourselves warned. . .

The final verdict: 4/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

3 commentaires:

DontDriveAngry said...

"How someone who became a worldwide bestselling author by capturing the imagination of millions of readers came up with something so unoriginal and uninteresting, I'll never know."

I probably won't be the only one to point out that this statement is a little odd, given how Brooks' entire career began with an obvious retelling of The Lord of the Rings.

Jon said...

I agree that the first couple of Shannarra books could be considered YA by today's standards. But same can be said of everything written by Eddings, Feist, Weis and Hickman, Salvatore, etc. But all the Brooks books that came later were not YA.

Frank said...

If you had read the latest installments of the Shannara series you would know that Brooks has declined terribly as a writer. All of his recent work is unoriginal and a rehash. But he does need to earn an honest living.