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The Hit

The Hit by Melvin Burgess
Scholastic, February 2014
Reviewed from an ARC

Melvin Burgess, Melvin Burgess, Melvin Burgess! So much love for Melvin Burgess, who can do dark and devious and subversive. The Hit has two starred reviews, an action-filled plot, unexpected twists, and a killer idea: a drug that will kill you after giving you the best week of your life. But will it go the distance during committee discussion? 

The fast-paced plot is absolutely the strength of the book — dark and absorbing, sometimes terrifying but totally entertaining. I couldn’t put it down and nearly missed at least one stop (a real test of any book for me). It careens from one scene to the next, with unexpected twists and turns moving it along. The opening scenes at the concert and the first demonstration are gripping, full of contagious elation. Burgess does a fantastic job of writing about the transformative experience of being a part of a crowd, a part of a movement, a part of a force that acts on the world. As the story spins on, it gets darker and more disturbing; the elation is gone but the pace continues, relentless — characters are threatened, beaten, suicidal, kidnapped, beaten some more, rebellious, ravenous for revenge, beaten up again…

The characters are generally sketched in — they don’t always feel detailed, fully fleshed out, but work to make the plot go go go. They tend to have believable faults, and while they’re not always completely sympathetic, they are engaging. Adam’s inability to think beyond the moment, or beyond himself and his circumstances drives the majority of the plot and feels accurate. Lizzie’s inability to process her feelings for Adam, and her inability to express her feelings to Adam is understandable — everything changes so rapidly around her, and Adam so rarely even tries to understand what she might be thinking or feeling. They seem, especially at first, like a totally recognizable, relatable teen couple: in love, in hate, never quite sure where they are or where they’re going.

The sketchiness of the characters allows them to make lightning quick decisions in the moment that allow the plot to flow but don’t always make sense, aren’t always consistent for the bigger picture. Jess was determined not to talk to Adam, but suddenly changed his mind? Why? Besides to move the plot along, I mean? Vince is horrified by Christian and knows him to be a monster and getting worse but fails to notice the medicine has been switched, or even to check on it? Anna is never very fixed as a character: a simple chemist, a person longing for distraction and connection, a perfect Zealot soldier…nothing very consistent. The baddies are conveniently unsympathetic — not developed at all (and sort of cheesy). The novel’s treatment of Christian is fairly insulting — some unspecified instability, fixed by meds, enabled by his circumstances and an inattentive bodyguard. It all makes sense in the context of the plot, but on deeper thought, it feels a little gross.

The details of the world, like the details of the characterization, aren’t really there. Burgess provides a lot of telling to go along with his showing. While there are attempts at tying it to a larger picture (mentions of mass protests, joining up with unions, with political activists), the story never really goes anywhere. Even the ending — emotionally satisfying as it is — doesn’t solve much of anything. What’s going to happen to Adam’s family? How will they pay rent? Get food to eat? None of these problems are solved by his against-the-odds survival. Big questions are raised, but not actually grappled with. The Hit is fun to read once, but there’s not much to return to, and, in the end, not enough to discuss at the table.

About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

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