Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Review: The Informationist by Taylor Stevens

Vanessa "Michael" Monroe was the child of American missionaries in Cameroon. Ignored by her parents, she grew up with a quick ear for learning the languages spoken around her, a talent for observation and blending in, and a rebelliousness that screamed for attention. Her skills led her to fall in with a group of criminals as a teenager and some appalling things happened to her (you'll find out as you read further into the book) that turned her into a smart, strong, savvy and emotionally crippled survivalist. As an adult, she has made a career out of using her talents to gather information in African and other third world countries for businesses and governments. When a big oil tycoon hires her to find out information about his step-daughter, who went missing in central west Africa four years previously, Michael quickly discovers that she's going to have to use all her skills just to stay alive on this mission.

I came across this book on some one's blog. (I'm so sorry, I can't remember whose it was.) I wanted to read it just because it was about an American girl who grew up in Cameroon, a country I lived in when I was very young. It's the first country we lived in that I have vivid memories of. (We lived in Chad when I was a baby.) I was four when we left Cameroon. (Then we spent the school year in the 'States before taking a job in Ougadougou, a country that has since changed it's name to Burkina Faso. No, my parents weren't missionaries. My father was a range ecologist who was contracted by organizations who were contracted under the United States Agency for International Development. Clear as mud?)

When I found that my library didn't have it, I bought it on my Nook.

The writing at the beginning had a distancing quality that didn't appeal to me. Twenty pages in, I started to wonder if I'd ever care about the character, if I even wanted to read the book.

And then...I couldn't stop reading.

 Having finished the book, I'm still not sure I like Michael Monroe, and I'm not sure how I feel about the book. This book is not for the faint of heart. There is graphic violence in some scenes, which was a turn-off, so I had to gloss over some parts. At the same time, I can completely see where it's coming from since Michael's experiences as a young teen have created emotional demons that cause her to snap under certain circumstances. And I don't like how emotionally manipulative she is. But again, I get that her background has made her that way.

Have I given the impression that I didn't like it? I did like it, but at the same time I have mixed emotions about it. It's an unusual thriller, it's setting and history of the main character unique and keeps moving like a good thriller should. I liked that about it. I thought the author did a superb job of capturing the central west African climate and the attendant cultures and customs. She also nailed the ambiguous life of Third Culture Kids. I liked how the action played out, and the pacing of the story, for the most part. After the first I'm-not-sure-this-book-is-for-me 30 plus pages, the things I didn't like weren't reason enough to stop reading. (I'm going to recommend it to my parents and get their take on it.) And I plan on reading the next book, The Innocents.

How's that for an ambiguous review?

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