My name isn’t really Nick Pearson.
I shouldn’t tell you where I’m from or why my family moved to Stepton, Virginia.
I shouldn’t tell you who I really am, or my hair, eye, and skin color.
And I definitely shouldn’t tell you about my friend Eli Cruz and the major conspiracy he was about to uncover when he died—right after I moved to town. About how I had to choose between solving his murder with his hot sister, Reya, and “staying low-key” like the Program has taught me. About how moving to Stepon changed my life forever.
But I’m going to.
Hmmmm. I… Hmmmm.
Nope. Still haven’t decided how I feel about this book. Fake ID reminded me a bit of a really yummy-looking piece of candy that you bite into and enjoy but then later regret when the aftertaste hits. Let’s start with the good-news candy yumminess first.
To unwrap it, “Nick Pearson” is stuck. His dad, a swaggery criminal-turned-informant with a bad attitude, has just dragged Nick and his mom to their last hope – Stepton, a tiny town in Virginia that will serve as Nick’s last stop in WitSec (more popularly known as the Witness Protection Program.) If Nick’s dad screws up one more time, the Feds will kick them out and leave them to the mercy of Nick’s dad’s old boss, the notorious crime lord Kreso Maric. So Nick keeps his head down and tries to blend in at his new school – hard to do when you get in a fight with the school king on the first day of school. Harder still when your only friend is a manipulative newspaper geek convinced he’s stumbled onto the conspiracy of a lifetime and then gets himself murdered only a few weeks later. Hardest of all is when his oh-so-fine sister Reya (the reason you got in a fight with that punk on the first day) strong-arms you into solving her brother’s murder and you end up being chased by all sides of the law.
I loved Nick’s voice. I loved that Mr. Giles was able to authentically write a cagey African-American teen without falling into some of the more obnoxious stereotypes that make their way into books. The thing about Nick is that his family shapes his worldview. His dad is an accountant for a crime lord, and his godfather is a legitimate hitman. Right and wrong take on a different cast in Nick’s world, where the cops aren’t to be trusted and rules are easily bent. Though Nick is more of a straight arrow than the rest of his family, it was interesting watching him use his particular brand of morality and criminal knowledge to get in and out of tight spots throughout the story.
Despite his shaky relations with the law, Nick – like most in his position – is not amoral. He has a defined set of right and wrong (or, at the very least, okay and not okay), and it’s his loyalty that gets him into trouble. Eli, the school’s photog, saves Nick from a beating on his first day, and that debt is the basis for their budding friendship. Eli gives Nick a place in the school through his work at the school’s unfortunately named paper, The Rebel Yell. He’s als Nick’s only friend and his “in” with oh-so-fine Reya, Eli’s sister. So when Eli is murdered [not a spoiler; it’s right there in the synopsis], Reya may be the one who puts Nick on the case, but it’s Nick’s loyalty that keeps him there.
I also liked that Nick had a legitimate reason for being involved in the case beyond his loyalty as well, for I usually roll my eyes when teens try to outsmart the trained professionals. I won’t get into the details of the whats and whys, but I’ll just say that it worked for me. And the big reveal? I guessed the baddie long before the big climax, but still, creeeeeeeeeepy.
So that’s the yummy candy. Now for the bad aftertaste. There is an awful lot of disrespect for women in this book, guys. At first I tried to brush it aside because the majority of the crap came from Reya’s ex, who is obviously Not A Role Model. But then I really started looking at the female characters in the story. One is Nick’s mom, who’s always fighting with his dad and not doing much else. One is Reya, whom Nick admires for her looks. One is Reya’s mom, a stereotypical Latina matriarch who isn’t even named. One is Pilar, Reya’s preggo cousin whom Reya hates. And one is Callie, a “slut” whom another characters uses to lure Nick into a trap. Stellar characterization there, no? Nick’s “friends” are unbelievably disrespectful toward women (especially in one conversation that I can’t quote because I don’t allow profanity on the blog), but Nick squelches his own instincts by passing it off as “normal guy talk.”
I get that this is supposed to be a “boy book” (despite there being NO SUCH THING), but does “boy book” have to mean disgusting “guy talk” being passed off as something normal and valid? And does “boy book” have to mean little to no agency on the parts of the female characters? Sure, Reya is feisty, but she never felt like a real person, despite having way more page time than any of the other female characters.
Bleh. I can’t, you guys. I just can’t. I don’t do stars on the blog, but if I did, the candy portion of this book would have netted a solid 3-3.5 stars. But with this awful aftertaste I can’t get rid of? 2 stars. That’s all I can do, besides hope that any potential sequels will shore up this obvious weak spot.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
Before I could force words, Mrs. Cruz said, “You must be hungry.” She yelled, “Reya! Preparale un plato de comida.”
She’d called Reya. But the rest could’ve been a scene from Scarface for all I knew. Reya, bring the chainsaw.
I left. Didn’t bother to see if I’d hurt his feelings, or made him angry, or had no effect on him at all. I wish I’d looked back and taken note.
I wish that more than anything.
Points Added For: Nick’s voice, POC characters!, Bricks the godfather, Eli not being a little golden boy.
Points Subtracted For: Awful representation/treatment of female characters, Dustin and his freaking potty mouth, being a little less substantial than I had wished, a pretty lame wrap-up of Eli’s motivations.
Good For Fans Of: POC characters, crime families, mysteries
Notes For Parents: Language, dirty jokes, teen pregnancy, murder
Note: I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.