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 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, and moves on to the next target.
But when he’s assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter seems so much like him; the mayor reminds him of his father. And when memories and questions surface, the Program is 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.
Tell us about BOY NOBODY.
BOY NOBODY is the story of a brainwashed teen assassin who wakes up to find himself torn between his mission and a girl whose father he is targeting. The father just happens to be the mayor of New York City, so we’re not talking about an average mission or an average day. I like to think of BOY NOBODY as a coming-of-age story set in a world of secret organizations, terrorists, spies, and teen assassins. With Boy Nobody, I tried to write what I love to read—an electrifying thriller that contains an honest, emotional story and complex characters.
How much does the theme of inheritance and genetic conditioning play a part in the novel?
Inheritance is a component of BOY NOBODY’s story, at least on the level of “the sins of the father are visited on the son.” Boy Nobody’s father was killed in front of his eyes when Boy Nobody was twelve years old, after which he was “adopted” against his will by The Program and trained to be an assassin. Later he comes to understand that The Program targets only traitors, terrorists, etc., so why was his father selected? Boy Nobody remembers what he experienced as a happy childhood, looking for some evidence of his father’s wrongdoing, but as yet he hasn’t found any. It’s a fascinating idea to me, that a boy trained as a soldier and assassin in his teens would look back on his previous life as a “cold case” and try to understand how he became who he is.
“The Program is watching.” To what extent do you think we live in an age of surveillance and how does that impact on our lives and play a part in the novel?
I think we’re living in the age of surveillance, and it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand there is the loss of privacy online and in the world. On the other hand, I was in New York City during the terrible Boston Marathon bombings, and I was very glad that the bombers were caught on camera from every angle and quickly identified. Digital surveillance is an important component of the BOY NOBODY novels, as it’s the way the The Program selects its targets for assassination. The Program uses a network of adolescent hackers to search out behavior online that indicates potential espionage, terrorism, or other activity that is a danger to the United States, and then it takes action. Boy Nobody himself comes to question the mission and tactics, but the intent is to protect the society at large. It’s hard to find fault with that.
Is anonymity a refuge or a position of unassailability for those seeking licence to break the law?
Boy Nobody would say that anonymity is a necessary tool to accomplish his missions. His handlers, Mother and Father, would say that you don’t really want to know what they’re doing to protect you. You should just be grateful that they’re doing it and you don’t have to.
Who are your literary influences?
I was fascinated by Hemingway when I was a teenager, both his use of language and the “grace under pressure” exhibited by his ultra-masculine heroes. As a nervous, fearful kid, it was comforting for me to imagine myself much tougher than I actually was. Much later I realized that Hemingway’s heroes served as role models for me, at least in certain aspects. I want to be a man who does the right thing, who is courageous, who acts with integrity in the world and is not ruled by fear. I put these qualities into BOY NOBODY, along with an emotional component that is not present in Hemingway’s work. I don’t think being a man means not feeling your feelings. As a writer of books for young adults, it’s really important for me to share my real experience. If I don’t get connected with my feelings, they rule me without my knowing it. Unconscious people cause a lot of havoc in the world.
Graham Greene wrote, ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’ What do you make of his observation?
It’s a writer’s job to tell the truth as he or she sees it. This requires enormous courage, even coldness of sorts. I have to be willing to describe what I see and feel, even if it might be unpopular or uncomfortable for others. On a practical level, I need some splinter of ice to write my novels. A friend called me up last week and ended by wishing me well with my work day. I said, “Thanks, I need to go kill a few people with a garden spade now. Talk to you later.”
What do you make of the eBook revolution?
As someone who is having vision problems as he gets older, the eBook revolution has been a godsend. I’m dependent on larger print to do my work and to read for pleasure. So on the level of accessibility, I’m very grateful for the digital revolution. However, as someone who was raised with books, I miss very much holding them in my hand, the smell and feel, the interior design, the magic of connecting to something with a singularity of purpose.
How far is Boy Nobody in control of his own destiny?
Are any of us in control of our destinies? I think most people live with the illusion that they’re in control of their lives until fate intervenes and tells a different story. How you cope with that defines your character in the world.
Allen Zadoff is the author of the thriller series Boy Nobody as well as 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 Theatre Training. His training as a super spy, however, has yet to be verified.
To learn more about Allen, please visit his website.