I read kids’ books because the fun the author had writing shines through and drips from the pages. I think that’s the secret behind the Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Kids and adults enjoy reading what authors enjoy writing.
I was reminded of this a couple months ago when I read author Andrew Klavan‘s “The Long Way Home,” second book of his The Homelanders series. You can read the first chapter here on BH. The series centers on high school student Charlie West, who wakes up one morning to a world turned upside down. The last year of his life has been erased from memory, and he’s running from police for a murder he didn’t commit. He’s also running – for his life – from a terrorist group called the Homelanders, who claim he’s a former member and want to silence him. Faced with prison from one side and death from the other, Charlie must rely on his karate black belt, a few high school friends and his faith to maneuver the fog of uncertainty surrounding him and discover the truth.
“The Long Way Home” is a fast-paced read that feels like you are watching the opening sequences of “Casino Royale” over and over again. For example, the book starts: “The man with the knife was a stranger. I never saw him before he tried to kill me.” It doesn’t let up from there.
The action-packed series has gained the attention of Summit Entertainment, which recently optioned the books.
I interviewed Klavan not long ago about this unique series, which combines kung-fu with conservatism and Christ in a no-nonsense, patriotic but not preachy manner.
The first thing I realized when reading the book is that it’s tough to put down. I’m a slow reader, and I polished off “The Long Way Home” in about two days. Klavan said that a big problem many teachers run into is that they can’t get boys to read. In his opinion, it’s because the books are “politically correct,” where “nerdy guys who find some magical sword or talisman … are transformed.” His book doesn’t have this problem. “I wanted to read about tough guys and heroes who stood up for what was right and protected women from harm,” Klavan said of his own childhood reading habits. “These nerdy characters deliver the message, ‘It’s all right to be you.’ The hero delivers a different message: ‘You can be better. You can be a giant among men.’ That’s what I wanted to hear as a boy, and what I want to say to boys now.” His series definitely sends that message.
Even more refreshing than a strong protagonist is the series’ search for truth within a world of relativity, where faith is real and battle lines are clearly drawn. Klavan wanted his series to challenge young readers to think, so he took a young man who had his ideas on the world mostly formulated – young Charlie is a Christian who gets good grades, believes in conservative values and supports America – then put him in a situation where he had to “reconstruct why he believed what he believed – while being shot at.” Charlie resides in a world with clear-cut boundaries on what is right and wrong, even when those around him are confused about this fact. “I think it’s important in story-telling not to preach or lecture, but I also think it’s important to try to depict the moral universe as it is. Morality is not a matter of ‘because I said so,’ it’s a matter of not degrading ourselves and other people,” he said. “If you depict a world in which cruelty, dishonesty or hedonism lead to happiness, you’re not depicting the world as it is.”
Outside of “24,” “James Bond” or “Die Hard” terrorists are often depicted as legitimate freedom-fighters, or at least not as completely abhorrent (“Green Zone” anyone?). Klavan’s Homelanders are ruthless and wrong. And they are based in reality. Klavan did a lot of research into Islamo-fascist groups like Al-Qaeda, and was embedded in Afghanistan for City Journal, which gave him a clear understanding of Islamo-fascism. But his focus isn’t on the Middle Eastern, Islamic ties of the Homelanders as much as it is on “showing how home-grown relativists, people who didn’t believe in objective morality, could be swept into the logic of evil.” The book does a solid job of refuting those who question why Americans should stand for values, but then forgive the sentiments of truly hurtful extremist organizations that stand on truly intolerant, anti-liberty beliefs.
Sometimes standing for faith, liberty and truth hurts your pocketbook. Despite strong sales in England for the first book in the series, British bookstore chain Waterstone ordered fewer numbers of the second book because of references to Charlie’s faith, according to Klavan’s British publisher, Headline. Headline suggested that he remove the references, but Klavan wasn’t willing to sacrifice the book’s integrity.
The third installment will come out in November, and Klavan just finished the first draft of the final book. My only complaint about book two is that it doesn’t contain books three and four, and unfortunately Klavan wouldn’t give me a sneak preview. I’ll be waiting for three in November, because I definitely had as much fun reading Klavan’s work as he has writing it.