IA: Initiate by John Darryl Winston

By Ekta R. Garg

September 23, 2015

Genre: Young adult fiction

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it

A young teen becomes the newest target of a vicious street gang but doesn’t know why. All he knows is that he needs to protect his younger sister so she can fulfill her academic potential and have a chance at leaving the low-income area where they live. The gang doesn’t leave him alone, however, and between that and the strange abilities he possesses the teen knows something big might be coming his way. Indie author John Darryl Winston proposes for young adult readers this interesting concept in a book that undercuts its aptitude by too much narration in the first book of his new series IA: Initiate.

Naz Andersen doesn’t like school much, but he knows enough to get by. He does everything he can to stay out of trouble. If his younger sister, Meri, can pass the test to get into a prestigious school, the two of them are almost guaranteed a ticket in the future out of the low-income area called the Exclave.

And they definitely want to get out. Naz doesn’t remember anything before three years ago, and the majority of his memories from the last three years include foster families. Miss Tracey is the latest to take Naz and Meri in, but beyond the most basic care she doesn’t interact with them much. So Naz knows Meri only has him to fight for her.

Lately, however, he’s finding out he needs to fight for himself as well. On the first day of the new school year—in a new school, no less—Naz gets involved in a fight with a notorious street gang. He escapes, but not for long. The gang members continue to stalk him, taunting him and ordering him to join them.

Naz made a promise to his mother before she died that he would never join a gang, and everyone knows gangs don’t solve problems but Naz finds the gang’s repeated verbal jabs unsettling. So unsettling, in fact, that he’s begun hearing voices again. His therapist, Dr. Gwen, does her best to help him, but Naz knows something may be coming his way. He just doesn’t know what.

New author John Darryl Winston frames his story with a track about a scientist in the past making a presentation at a gathering of scientists and other interested parties. After reading several chapters, readers won’t have any problem figuring out the connection between the scientist and Naz and Meri. The question then becomes how did everyone get from point A to point B.

Winston’s choice of point of view blurs the lines between an omniscient narrator and Naz’s voice. This leads the book into several places of over-explaining; Winston doesn’t leave anything to chance or imagination. His earnest tone will reassure readers that he leads them by the hand with the best of intentions, but readers may start to get antsy long before the end of the book as they wait for the climax.

The climax may disappoint readers by its underwhelming buildup, and Winston struggles to balance his space between world-building and the devices necessary to move the story forward. Also, including the bits with the scientist will offer a respite from the everyday happenings in Naz and Meri’s lives but not enough in its own plot to satisfy curiosity.

Still, Winston’s premise shows glimmers of potential. Readers may want to Borrow IA: Initiate if they’re willing to take a chance on something that may intrigue them in the future, but less patient readers may want to Bypass it.