I’m not actually sure that *The Lock Artist* is young adult fiction, but the protagonist is a young adult (okay, so clearly not genre defining) and the approach to plot and metaphor – accessible – suggests the genre.
Digression on genre:
What makes a book young adult fiction? I’m sure there are theoretical responses and I could do some Research (as I’ve been trained to do) or recall what I learned in my Children’s Lit course (ha! a laughable, terribly run disaster of a course), but I’d rather think about the question based on what I’ve read of the genre. And I’ll think about it with some other questions: what makes a novel *not* young adult? A maturity of theme? (and yet we call *The Diary of Anne Frank* young adult NONfiction) The age of the protagonist? (No, says *The Life of Pi*, *The Kite Runner* and *Room* to name some recent examples). So perhaps then it’s the themes? The coming-of-age? Identity formation? And perhaps, too, the pitch of the narration: something not quite as dense and demanding, something shorter on irony and cynicism, something more approachable and welcoming? I welcome responses to this question – and I’ll keep thinking about it.
Back to The Lock Artist:
Given my tentative claims to the genre specifications of YAF, I’ll say that The Lock Artist fits in there. The protagonist is mute and so there’s a surprising pleasure in reading his first person account because the reader is (explicitly) called into the unique role of listener/audience that our protagonist is otherwise without in his life. We are the *only* people privy to his thoughts because no one else is capable of hearing them.
The metaphor of “locked up” words plays out in the plot of the novel as our young protagonist learns how to be a “boxman” – the safe cracker in a burglary. The story begins with our narrator in prison for burglary so we *know* how the story is going to end – back in prison – but as his version of events unfolds I found myself willing the ending to be different from what I already knew it to be. That is to say, I found the narrator utterly compelling as a narrative voice and as a person: I genuinely wanted things to work out well for him.
The plot has three foci: how he became a boxman, the relationship with his one true love and how he came to be mute. Of the three the relationship story is by far the most compelling. The boxman stuff is *interesting,* (I tried to pick my gym locker!) but it reads as a procedural crime drama rather than as a story of character change. The trauma/mute thread is slightly more compelling, but suffers from over-hype. For so much of the novel the reader is led to believe that this is The Most Traumatic Thing to Happen to Anyone Ever. And while the event *is* awful – and very well told – it can’t help but to fall short of expectations, if only because it’s been projected as the climax-to-end-all-climaxes. And as it turns out this reader would much rather the climax have been something to do with the relationship with Amelia. And it sort of is. So maybe that’s the problem; a divided climax?
In any case, I’d recommend this one if you’re keen to consider things like genre, if you’d like to learn about the life of a boxman, or if you’re looking for something suspenseful but not all that demanding. Oh and I just really liked – like wanted to befriend – our protagonist. So there’s something there, too, for character lovers.