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Being by Kevin Brooks
Cover Artist: Photo by Ghislain & Marie David De Lossyl
Review by Alana Hurley
Push Mass Market  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780439903424
Date: 01 February 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Author Kevin Brooks writes stories of the angst and isolation of adolescence, and Being is no different, except that the protagonist, Robert Smith, has to deal with the sudden realization that while he may look normal on the outside, on the inside there are: "Plastic casings. Silver filaments. Moving metal parts." He's decidedly not a normal teen. Reviewer Alana Hurley found the story a bit unsatisfying in the end, but not without its worthwhile moments. Think Borne Identity (2002) meets D.A.R.Y.L. (1985).

Orphaned teen Robert Smith goes in for a routine endoscopy and ends up sedated but conscious on a hospital gurney with his gut cut open after his endoscopy video reveals that he's not human. He gets away, but government spooks set him up as a murderer. He can't go home and nowhere is safe. With only a copy of his videotape and no answers, Robert sets off across London with men in suits close behind. He kidnaps Eddi, an acquaintance, who conveniently happens to be a competent identification forger, hacker, and thief. She furnishes him with a new identity and the two take off for Spain, but the men in suits won't give up until they find him.

Brooks meant Robert to be an Everyman, but he ends up as just a cipher. His complete lack of history (and personality) makes it hard for the reader to care. Robert's hostage and eventual lover Eddi turns out to be more interesting than the main character.

While Brooks' prose is at its strongest during his well-written action sequences and is engaging as the novel begins, it starts to get repetitive around the seventh or eighth time we get to sit around while Robert navel-gazes and ponders what being human means. The next step might be to find out, but he and Eddi are content to stay in Tejada, working menial jobs and watching the folk festivals. The narrative drags at this point, with the reader still wondering what Robert is, while he seems to have lost interest in finding out, aside from some middle-of-the-night anxiety.

Of course we know the idyll can't last, but the arrival of the goons doesn't mean the reader will get any more information about Robert. Although Brooks admits that he intended the questions about Robert's identity to go unresolved, it leaves the book unsatisfying and vaguely annoying. Robert's character remains undeveloped, and if he's still asking the same questions at the end of the book as he was in the beginning, Brooks' narrative hasn't actually gone anywhere, and Robert's final confrontation with his pursuers plunges into melodrama.

Still, Brooks is a clever writer and is especially skilled at crafting intense bursts of action, even if his narrative is hollow in between. As a meditation on what it means to be human, Being rings rather false, although it might resonate more with younger readers as a metaphor for the monstrousness of adolescence.

It might help if Brooks drops the pretensions of tackling huge, existential questions and focuses his considerable talents on developing more three-dimensional characters. While Being starts with a gripping introduction, its lack of development makes the storyline taper off and eventually become repetitive. But Brooks remains a writer to watch.

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