At one point in The Long Way Home, the second volume (just released) of Andrew Klavan’s Young Adult series, The Homelanders, Charlie West, the hero, reminisces about talking with his school buddies about various geeky subjects, such as why the second part of any trilogy is never as good as Parts One and Three. I can’t say how The Long Way Home stacks up against the third book, coming this fall, but I’d say that it definitely lives up to the promise of Volume One, The Last Thing I Remember.
Nobody does literary chases better than Klavan, and fully the first quarter of this book is a hot chase, with Charlie fleeing both terrorists and the police on a motorcycle and on foot. Like the masterful chase that played such a major role in the author’s book True Crime (which became a Clint Eastwood movie), this one would strain credibility pretty tight, if the author gave you time to think about it. Fortunately, he doesn’t, and the young males who are its chief intended audience will eat it up like nachos. I can’t guarantee your nephew will like it, but I’m pretty sure he won’t tell you it was boring.
The Last Thing I Remember began Charlie West’s story—how he went to bed one night a pretty normal teenage boy (though, fortunately for him, a teenage boy with a black belt in karate), and woke up the next morning tied to a chair in a torture room, held prisoner by terrorists and (he was to learn) on the run from the police, having been convicted and imprisoned for murdering a high school friend. In that story, Charlie began to learn a little about the Homelanders, a group of domestic terrorists allied with Islamic jihadists.
At the beginning of The Long Way Home, Charlie is doing research in a public library, and is attacked by a man with a knife. Shortly thereafter he’s on the run again, on a stolen motorcycle, with the police on his tail. When he finally shakes them, he decides he has to go home, to his home town, to try to fill in some of the gaps from the full year of his life he’s forgotten. Soon he’s holed up in a crumbling, abandoned mansion, enjoying the unexpected support of his old group of friends.
This is the part I enjoyed most, because the friends are a lot of fun—well-drawn, individual characters who interact in classic buddy fashion. Charlie also has the opportunity to spend time with his girlfriend, Beth. Their relationship is at once passionate and chaste, and Charlie is everything any father of a teenage girl could want for his daughter’s suitor (aside from the small matter of his being a convicted felon on the run).
As in The Last Thing I Remember, the center of the conflict is Charlie’s struggle to believe in himself, and in the principles and institutions that seem to have betrayed him. At every stage there are choices, and through good and bad choices, Charlie finds his way, right up to a breathless climax that sends him off again on one final quest.
In keeping with the Young Adult audience, this book lacks the texture (and length) of Klavan’s adult novels, but there’s plenty here for the Old Adult reader to enjoy. Most of Klavan’s most successful output has been one-off novels, but in my opinion his best stuff is his series work, such as the almost-forgotten John Wells novels he wrote under the pseudonym of Keith Peterson, and the Weiss-Bishop detective trilogy, which hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. So for young readers and confirmed Klavan fans alike (as well as pretty much anybody else who likes exciting stories), The Long Way Home is highly recommended.