They needed the perfect assassin.
Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school in a new town under a new name, makes a few friends, and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, moving on to the next target.
But when he's assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter is unlike anyone he has encountered before; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, his handlers at The Program are watching. Because somewhere deep inside, Boy Nobody is somebody: the kid he once was; the teen who wants normal things, like a real home and parents; a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's mission.
In this action-packed series debut, author Allen Zadoff pens a page-turning thriller that is as thought-provoking as it is gripping, introducing an utterly original and unforgettable antihero.
About the Author
Allen Zadoff is the author of several acclaimed novels, including Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have, winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award and a YALSA Popular Paperback for Young Adults. He is a graduate of Cornell University and the Harvard University Institute for Advanced Theater Training. His training as a super spy, however, has yet to be verified.
Read an Excerpt
By Allen Zadoff
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Allen Zadoff
All rights reserved.
I PICK UP A BASEBALL BAT.
It's a thirty-two-ounce Rawlings composite. I feel the weight in my hands. The balance is slightly off from a dent on the tip.
I grasp the bat on either end and stretch out in the parking lot after the game. Natick vs. Wellesley. My Natick teammates are all around me, high school jocks doing what they do after a win. Celebrating. Big-time.
I celebrate, just like them.
This is what I think to myself:
I am one of you. I am young. I am a winner.
I smile and stretch.
After a moment, I shift my weight onto my back leg and I swing hard. Jack Wu comes up behind me at the same time. The bat misses his head by an inch.
A big man in a black suit tenses nearby. Tenses but doesn't interfere.
This is Jack's bodyguard and driver, a shadow behind Jack whenever he goes out. Jack's dad is rich. Rich and nervous.
Jack hates the bodyguard. He's told me a dozen times. Jack and I are friends, so he tells me these things.
"Watch it with the bat, dude," Jack says, and he punches me on the shoulder. A playful punch.
The Suit steps forward, and Jack spins around, anticipating him.
"Down, Rover," he says, like he's talking to a pit bull.
The Suit grins like he's in on the joke, but I wonder if he wouldn't slap the hell out of Jack if he had the chance. Instead he leans back against the sleek black Mercedes and waits.
"You killed it out there," Jack says. He head-gestures toward the field.
"I do my best," I say.
"Your best kicks ass and takes names," Jack says, and he punches my shoulder again.
This time the big man doesn't move. But the other players are looking at us.
Two punches on the arm. A way of asserting dominance.
Dominance is a threat. It must be dealt with.
I run a checklist in my mind:
I can let him punch me. Choose a lower status.
I can retaliate in equal measure, with equal force.
I can escalate. Assert my dominance.
Which should I choose?
Jack is supposed to be my friend. A teenage friend would punch a buddy the way he punched me. When in doubt, emulate. That's what I've been taught.
So it's option two.
I give Jack a light punch on the shoulder.
"Ow!" he cries in mock pain. "Take it easy on me."
This entire transaction takes no more than two seconds:
I swing the bat.
Jack punches. I punch back.
We both laugh as the Suit looks on.
This is what you'd see if you were watching us now. Two jocks, buddies, teasing each other.
"You want to come back to the bank vault?" Jack says.
The bank vault. That's what Jack calls his house.
"For a little bit," I say.
Jack steps toward the car. The Suit reacts quickly, opening the back door for him.
"My friend is coming with," Jack says to him.
"Yes, sir," he says, and he gestures for me to get into the car.
THE LEATHER IS SOFT IN THE MERCEDES.
It's the kind of leather seat that pulls you in, begs you to relax against it. A seat that says, You are being taken care of. You are being driven where you need to go.
I imagine having a father who can afford things like this. Expensive cars. Expensive bodyguards. Not just afford them, but a father who wants his son to have them. Wants him to be taken care of.
But this is not something I should be thinking about now. Not when there's work to do.
I glance at Jack. He's leaning back with his eyes closed.
"I was thinking," he says.
"That's unusual for you," I say.
"Asshole," he says.
He smiles, his eyes still closed.
"I was thinking about you and me."
"Stop right there," I say. "You're making me nervous."
"Can I be serious for a minute?" Jack says.
"You want to get all heavy for sixty seconds, I'm not going to stop you."
"I was thinking that you're a real friend."
"You've got tons of friends," I say.
"Not guys I invite over to the house. Not guys I trust."
"You trust me?"
"For real," Jack says.
The Suit in the front seat coughs. A warning to Jack? A reminder that he's still here? Or nothing at all. A tickle in the throat.
"If you trust me, can I borrow a hundred bucks?" I say.
"I don't trust you that much," Jack says.
He punches my arm.
I let him do it.
THE SUIT TYPES A CODE INTO THE SECURITY GATE.
The large metal gate slides open to reveal a long driveway, a guard hut set twenty feet in.
We pull up to the hut and the Suit nods to a guard. He lifts two fingers. Two people coming in, Jack and me. The guard marks it down on a clipboard. He's seen me before, and it's not a big deal.
We continue around a hairpin turn, and the house comes into view. Big but not lavish. The Suit stops to let us out.
Jack types a code to gain access to the house.
The front door beeps to announce our entry. Front door open, it says.
It beeps again when the door is closed. Front door closed, the electronic voice says.
Jack's dad wanders by with a beer in his hand. Chen Wu is his name. His friends call him John. He's the CEO of a high-tech firm along Route 128. Lots of government contracts.
Does he need all this security?
I know he likes it. It makes you feel important to have a lot of people with guns around you. It makes you feel safe, and more importantly for him, it makes his wife feel safe. That keeps her from giving him a hard time.
It's not just Mr. Wu. All the CEOs are edgy right now. There was some violence a year ago. An important kid got shot during an attempted kidnapping while on spring break in Mexico. The Fortune 500 went security crazy. Now rich kids like Jack need a commando team to take a dump.
"Nice to see you, boys," Jack's dad says.
"What's up, Dad?" Jack says. "Gotta take a squirt. Pardon my French."
He turns to leave.
"Hey, I can't stay too long," I say.
"You gotta go?" Jack says, disappointed.
"Gotta call my mom," I say. "I guess it's morning wherever she is."
"Crap in a bag," Jack says.
He shoots up the stairs.
"You have time for a cold one?" Jack's dad says.
"Beer or soda?"
"How old are you?" he says.
"Soda for you. But it was a nice try."
I shrug like I'm bummed out, and I follow him through the den.
"How was the game?" Jack's dad says.
"Amazing," I say. "You should come sometime."
"High school ball is not really my thing," he says.
But it's his son's thing, so what does it matter?
I see this a lot with the Fortune 500. Mr. Wu is always working. Except Friday nights. His only downtime, and he doesn't want to spend it with his family. He relaxes for the evening, then works again all weekend.
So be it. It's Friday night and he's here. So am I.
That's the important thing.
We head into the kitchen, and the conversation drifts to the Red Sox. We're near Boston, so we have to talk Sox.
I notice an expensive knife block on the counter with one of the knives missing from its slot. A wide slot. This is a knife big enough to be used as a weapon.
I scan the room.
The knife is sitting on a cutting board next to the sink, ten feet away from us. A safe distance away.
I relax and exhale. I sit at the table, and I reach into my backpack and take out a ballpoint pen.
Jack's dad looks at me from the refrigerator, a question on his face.
"You taking notes?"
"When you talk baseball, I listen," I say.
Jack's dad smiles. I smile.
When in doubt, emulate.
I turn the cap until it clicks, exposing the point.
Jack's dad reaches forward to hand me the cold soda.
I push the end of the pen into the meat of his forearm. The action depresses a miniature plunger.
His eyes widen as the drug hits him. His mouth puckers, forming the familiar Wh—.
Maybe it's why he's trying to say.
Maybe it's what, as in What are you doing?
But the drug is fast-acting. Its actual speed depends on age and conditioning, which is bad news for Jack's dad.
He's out of shape.
So it is fast. Faster even than a word can form.
Jack's dad stumbles, and I catch him, place him on the floor by the kitchen table. I don't let him fall, because I don't want Jack running downstairs to see what caused the noise. I don't want anyone else rushing in. Not yet.
I need fifteen seconds.
Six seconds to lay him down, arranging the body, limbs splayed as if from a fall. I use an elbow to knock over the can of beer next to him. The foam hisses.
Five seconds to put away my pen and notebook, zip the backpack where it hangs from the back of a chair.
Four more seconds to play out the chain, let the chemical reaction in Mr. Wu's body take him beyond the point of resuscitation.
I look at the body. The man who was Chen Wu is gone.
A husband is gone.
A father is gone.
"I trust you," Jack said.
That was your mistake, I think.
Twenty seconds have passed. The outside edge of my operational window.
"Oh my god!" I say. "Help!"
I fling open the front door. "Someone!" I shout.
Jack comes running down the stairs, and his face turns white with shock. A sound comes out of him, something between a moan and a scream.
The security people rush in. One look at the body and the first guy knows.
It's all a show after that.
I stand to the side and watch it happen.
Resuscitation attempts, the ambulance, all of it.
I push forward like I want to be in the middle of the action, be near my friend Jack. The Suit from the baseball game stops me.
He puts an arm on my shoulder, gently, like he's my father or something. I want to shrug it off, but I don't.
"Maybe it would be better if you stepped away," he says.
"What about Jack—?"
"It's a family matter," he says.
I relax my shoulders beneath his arm.
"I need my backpack," I say.
He steps into the fray, grabs my backpack, hands it to me, and guides me out the door.
I glance back. My last image is of Jack on the sofa, his back hunched, his head almost to his knees.
A profile of grief.
All because of me.
I WALK PAST THE REVOLVING LIGHTS OF THE AMBULANCE.
Past the security vehicles, the police officers, the chatter of voices over shortwave radios.
"Do you need a ride?" the gate guard says.
"I'm good," I say.
"Tough day," he says.
"Terrible," I say.
"It happened on my watch," he says, shaking his head. "But they can't blame me, right? I'm not God. I don't get to decide when and where."
Not true. You don't have to be God to decide when and where. You only have to take action and be willing to deal with the consequences.
"Take care of yourself," he says.
"I always do," I say.
He opens the gate for me, and I'm out.
I walk down the street slowly, like someone who is traumatized. But I'm not traumatized. I'm already thinking about what comes next. I'm reviewing my exit strategy.
And maybe, just for a moment, I'm thinking about Jack.
He was my best friend for four weeks.
But not anymore.
He might not like it much that I killed his father. Not that he'll know. The drug leaves no trace. Jack's dad had a heart attack. That's what the autopsy will show, if there is an autopsy. Strings will be pulled. Or the modern equivalent—computer keys pressed.
If an autopsy is done, it will show nothing at all.
That's my specialty. People die around me, but it never seems like my fault. It seems like bad luck following good.
Good luck: You meet a great new friend at school.
Bad luck: A tragedy befalls your family.
The two don't ever seem connected, but they are.
Jack didn't know that when we became best friends a month ago. I slipped into his life easily, and now I'm slipping out just as easily.
I've broken another guy's heart, changed the course of his life. Lucky for me, I can do it and not feel it.
I don't feel anything.
I feel cold, I feel hungry, I feel the fabric of a new shirt rubbing against my skin, and I feel gravel beneath my feet.
But those are sensations, not feelings.
I had feelings once, too. I think I did. But that was a long time ago.
That was before.
HIS NAME WAS MIKE.
And he was my best friend.
Or so I thought.
He was the new guy in school, but he didn't seem new. The minute he started, it seemed like he'd been there forever.
"What are you into?" he said the first time I talked to him.
"I like to read," I said.
I was twelve then, and I had so many books that my dad had to build a second bookcase in my room.
"You read that vampire stuff?" he said.
"No. Action, adventure. Sci-fi if it's good."
"Cool," he said. "Me, too."
It didn't feel strange when we became instant friends, like when you feel separated at birth. A brother from another mother. That's what they call it.
Within a week, we were inseparable. Within two, he was sleeping over at the house.
We stayed up late, defying my parents, talking about everything under the sun. We exchanged books. We talked about girls.
It was during that year that I noticed girls were wearing bras, and you could see through their shirts if the light was right. Mike taught me you should always let the girl get between you and the window on a sunny day because it improved your viewing options. I thought he was a genius.
Mike and me. Two twelve-year-old kids, laughing and shooting the crap, thrilled to have found a partner in crime in each other.
In hindsight, I should have found it strange that I never saw his house, never met his parents. He said his dad was a corporate lawyer who traveled for business. My dad was a professor and scientist who sometimes went to conferences, so I knew what he meant. Kind of.
His mom got overwhelmed, he said. She didn't like kids around.
My mom got overwhelmed, too. Not with guests, but with my dad. At the time, they'd been fighting for what seemed like months. I didn't know what it was about, but it was one of those fights that was going on even when it wasn't, even when everything was quiet.
It went on for so long it felt like our family was having a nervous breakdown.
I told all this to Mike.
He was my friend. It felt good to tell him, to confide in him.
I didn't know he was going to kill my parents.
THIS HAPPENS SOMETIMES WHEN I FINISH.
Memories come. I don't know why.
They go away eventually if I keep moving.
I'm a mile from Jack's now, walking down the street, moving toward my egress point. If all has gone as planned, I should be clear and on my way out of town.
I sense it a moment before it happens. Something in the air shifts. Everyone has intuition, but not everyone knows how to listen to it. I've been trained to listen, to perceive small changes in the environment around me, to predict outcomes before they happen.
And I've been trained to react.
My intuition tells me something is about to happen.
And then it does.
A dark gray sedan comes around the corner. The car jerks slightly when the driver sees me. It happens in a split second, like when someone spots a pothole at the last moment and pulls the wheel to avoid it.
But there's no pothole. Only me.
It's a natural human reaction. When you spot what you're looking for, your body reacts. In poker they call it a tell, a physical tic that reveals what's going on with the player.
This driver has a tell. That's good.
Because by the time the car pulls to a stop in the middle of the road, I've had a few seconds to prepare.
I rapid-scan the area:
Empty road behind. Stone and gravel surface beneath. A spattering of houses set way back from the road, their views obscured behind thickets of trees.
And the car in front of me, twenty yards away.
I continue for a few steps, and the license comes into view. It's not one of Jack's dad's cars. This car has diplomatic plates.
The doors open. Four Asian men in suits get out. They do it casually, as if the non sequitur of four men in suits stopped in the middle of a suburban street is no big deal.
I could escape into the woods. See how good they are on foot and separated.
Some would say that's the best strategy in this situation, divide power and take it on little by little.
Some say that. I don't.
There's another trick that I learned from the people who trained me. Don't diffuse power; concentrate it. Get it too close together, where its effectiveness is reduced.
That's the trick I will use.
The problem: I never carry a gun, and my weaponized ballpoint pen and other tools were dropped down a sewer. I left my empty backpack in a Dumpster a ways down the road.
So I've got nothing to rely on but my training.
It should be enough.
Excerpted from Boy Nobody by Allen Zadoff. Copyright © 2013 Allen Zadoff. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was told that this was a great book. I'm not certain that it would have been on my radar had someone not told me that I should pick it up because it sounded awesome. So once Hannah told me that I should grab it while at ALA, I jumped on that. Then Liza at Who R U Blog also talked it up like nothing else. So I promptly moved it to the top of my TBR shelf, and brought it with me on vacation. I really liked that this was a book told from a boy's point of view and that the book didn't follow all the norms that go with a YA book. I have found that YA can be painfully predictable these days and this book didn't fall into that. Every time I thought I knew what was going to happen, I was wrong. I loved that it kept me on my toes the entire time. I felt badly for Boy Nobody since he never really knew who he was or what was his true purpose was. He knew the people he was working for and he knew that his family were traitors and that it was his job to kill other traitors. What we don't know is what his real purpose is, and what really happened to his parents. Perhaps the best part of this book is the fact that there is going to be a second book that I'm sure will be just as hard to put down as the first.
This book is hard to put down! I received an advance reader edition of this book from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers and Net Galley for the purpose of providing an honest review. 4.5 Stars Do you know how sometimes a book you are reading just sucks you in and you have to know what happens next? That book that you can not seem to be able to put down even though you have lots of other things that need to be done? This book was that kind of book for me. I literally found myself making dinner while holding this book with one hand. That kind of thing rarely happens in my world but I sure do love it when it does. This book is about a teenage assassin who can become a part of someone's world, eliminate his target, and then leave without anyone even suspects that a murder has even taken place. He has been highly trained by The Program and works as a solo agent in the field. His only communication is with "Father" and "Mother" who issue his assignments. He has a new assignment for which he will become Benjamin. He will need to go to New York and become close to Sam. His assignment is to kill Sam's dad and he has only 5 days to accomplish this task. Sam's dad happens to be the mayor of New York City making this job more difficult. We know very little about Ben. His real name is not used until the end of the book. The circumstances that turned him into the killer he is in this book are shared with the reader in short flashbacks as the story progresses. I thought that this book was remarkably well written. I always felt compelled to read just a bit more to find out what was going to happen next. This book would probably work best for an older teen audience. Obviously this book is about a teen assassin but it also has a few scenes with teenage drinking and an off stage sex scene. I would recommend this book to others. It appears that this is the first book in a new series and I am looking forward to the next book already. This was the first book that I have had a chance to read by Allen Zadoff but I plan to watch for this author in the future.
I Am the Weapon (The Unknown Assassin #1) by Allen Zadoff This is the Jason Bourne of the teenage world. The main character a teen himself shows the ability of the human spirit to overcome, adapt, and find purpose. The world is a dark place, left with only the chance to survive by serving those who have taken him, a young boy taught to obey learns to question. The mission has taught him that he is not mindless weapon, but someone who can find the truth at great cost.
Zadoff has come up with an amazing character and story. My son and I both enjoyed it tremendously. Fast paced with realistic action, technology and characters that ring true.
I'm always game for a a thriller, but I've yet to dabble in the Young Adult Thriller genres. I'm glad this was the first book I came across, as it was almost impossible to put down. Allen Zadoff has created a world that is unique, intriguing, and offers characters that many can relate to. And while there was much to love, there were a few things that tripped me up as a reader. Reading the first few pages, I didn't know what to make of it. The writing was very short, with very simplistic sentences, and I didn't understand why. If the entire book was going to be like this, it would have taken me forever to finish. But as I continued reading, I started to understand the writing style. The narration comes from the mind of a sixteen year old spy with almost zero emotions. We don't even get his name until the last half of the novel. As the story develops further, the writing changes subtlety to mirror the narrators budding emotions and new thought patterns. In between the present storyline, we get glimpses of what of what transpired in the narrator's life to bring him to where he is now. We see his past with his parents and his first taste of the organization he works for, other members, what the organization stands for. You don't know whether the main character is a good guy or a bad guy, and that ambiguity helps make him relatable and pushes the story forward. While reading, I couldn't help thinking how much this story reminded me of the TV show, Nikita. The Program, the name of the organization that our main character works for, seems just as shady as Division in the show, and in both, the recruits are young and have troubled pasts. This book also reminded me of the show, Burn Notice, as just like in that show, our main character explains what he's going to do on his mission. Its aspects like this that draw a reader in. We eventually get to the main storyline when the m.c. gets his next assignment. And its when the m.c. meets the daughter of his target that we see the cracks in his emotionless mask start to develop. As a 16-year-old boy, there's only so much you can do to douse your hormones. Especially when you have limited emotional outlets. The relationship that transpires between him and his target's daughter is just what you'd expect from a high school romance. Quick once its recognized on both sides and full of hormones. While it may have taken time for the two to admit their feelings, even to themselves, it's a roller coaster ride after the fact. And it almost compromises his mission. During the present storyline, we're given glimpses into our m.c.'s past and what made him really want to join The Program. We know this mission is changing him and bringing him back to a time where he didn't need to shut off his emotions. We eventually discover his name, Zach, and how he was introduced to The Program. Also, we meet the agent responsible for bringing him into the fold and learn that his family may still be alive somewhere. After some great twists and turns, the story concludes, leaving the reader wanting more and more. Zach starts to question The Program and tries to figure out just who they are. He leaves a loose end that will help him in the next installment, something he wouldn't have done in the first half of the book. There are so many questions left unanswered, hooking the reader. I'd definitely recommend this book to those looking for a good Young Adult Mystery/Thriller.
A young boy taken from the his life and recruited into The Program. I was so entertained reading this book. A 16 year old boy is an assassin or rather a "soldier", as he describes himself. The story is told by the main characters point of view. You get his innermost thoughts as well as his memories that he begins to regain. He has an inner struggle that I think most teenagers have. No one wants to just blindly do as your told and not ask questions. It was exciting and suspenseful right from the start and didn't let up will the end. I can't wait to read the next installment! Crime suspense and YA books are your thing give this one a try. It's great!!
A teenage hit man? I had to have this book and I'm so glad I read it. When Benjamin (not his real name, of course) began his new assignment in a private high school, there were the usual suspects - bullies, nerds, divas, etc. I was afraid things might continue in that stereotypical direction, but this story reached a higher level of sophistication than expected. With his training, Benjamin was clearly at a higher maturity level than the other students, but also with his training, he was able to adapt to any situation and blend in with the crowd. Although sometimes a book written strictly in first person can be limiting, I didn't find that to be the case with I Am The Weapon and enjoyed being in Benjamin's head and learning things when he did. This book was also action-packed, as you would expect in a thriller such as this. Obviously, you have to suspend disbelief with a book about a teenage assassin, but a couple of times in the story, a mature, adult character disclosed personal things about his life and family to Benjamin, a teenage boy he'd just met. I found that a little hard to swallow. This book was very enjoyable, fast-paced, and hard to put down. Even if you're not a YA fan, but enjoy thrillers and suspense, I recommend giving this book a chance. You may find yourself surprised. This review is based on a digital copy from the publisher through NetGalley.
Was I Am the Weapon an action packed and non-stop thrill ride? One big fat YES! I Am the Weapon is the kind of book you can't put down. The book is packed with action from the opening scene to the shocking conclusion; it is a must read. I Am the Weapon started a little unexceptional but about mid-way through the book, it became exceptional. Although Ben was an anti-hero with conflicted emotions, he still managed to sound like a sixteen year old boy. The author expertly portrays him as a soldier/spy in the way he handles situations. The other characters are also very realistic in their emotions and actions. Personally I liked that Sam, was confident and determined and didn't need to be saved all the time. I did not like the character of Howard because of the incident in the library; it completely threw the book off for me. I gave this book four stars because of the ending. Why I say this is because of the way the book progressed in the beginning and how it concluded. I really did not foresee the ending. To be honest, I believe it took guts for the author to write that and I'm very interested to see how the author will translate what happened in I Am the Weapon to the sequel. Was it similar to a James Bond? Yes, a lot of the plot is characteristic of a James Bond movie which can be good or bad depending on your perspective. For me, I would have preferred a few more themes that didn't look like they were taken right out if a James Bond flick. My other problem was the flashbacks which ended up somewhat shaky and without impact on the overall plot. The flashbacks released too much information on Ben's past. It would have been to the authors advantage to keep him in mystery longer. In particular was the scene with Ben's father and Mike that made me question his parents death. Overall, I liked the furious pace, intensity, and characters of the novel. One of the problems was the very similar plots of I Am the Weapon and James Bond. The second was the weak flashbacks that could have raised more questions than answer them. But, I enormously enjoyed I Am the Weapon and couldn't put it down. So, if you are in the mood for an action/spy book this book is for you. Note: I received this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.