“Knight in Paper Armor” is a dark dystopian novel set in the near future, where corporate greed and racism have completely taken over and divided up America (and I assume other countries but they’re never really talked about). We follow Billy, a young Jewish boy with incredible physic powers; able to take away the physical and emotional pain of those he touches, as well as mind controlling them if his darker tendencies get pushed too far. When Billy is finally allowed to leave the facility where he’s being tested on to attend school like a “normal” teen, he meets our female main character, Natalia. Natalia is an immigrant from Guatemala, a fact she has to hide, pretending to be from Mexico instead—though she faces a lot of bigotry for that, too. Billy and Natalia deal with extreme racism from practically the start, their world is brutal in every sense of the word, and the author is not shy about sharing their experiences in great detail. The topics covered in this sci-fi fantasy dystopian are important and very much apply to the world we live in today, but I do not think this book is appropriate for the audience it’s intended for….
There are a lot of racial slurs, antisemitic views, and extreme violence of all kinds against children almost from the very start of this book all the way to the end. It’s a lot, especially if you find that kind of language and imagery triggering, so please be forewarned. I hesitate to go into detail about the violence just because of spoilers, but I will say that showing the reader maybe one or two of those instances in detail would have made sense, been warranted even so the reader understands the brutal reality our characters live in, but the sheer number of those scenes makes this book daunting and, for the YA audience I believe it’s intended for, just too much. I say I “believe” because it’s not explicitly stated this is for young adult audiences, but our protagonists are in high school, and the writing FEELS like it is meant for a younger audience, which is where a lot of my mixed feelings come from, but more on that in a second.
My other, much smaller qualms are around the big bad and the insta-love romance between our main characters. The villain in this novel is a little too “evil for the sake of evil/power” which fits in with younger audience novels, but to me his motivations always felt a bit overly simplistic given the sheer violence he approaches all situations with. And I’m just not really a fan of insta-love, but that’s my personal preference. Also, Natalia never really read like a teenage girl to me; her inner monologue was far too flippant in dangerous situations and her overuse of “man” in dialogue even with adults just never worked for me (all characters seem to use "man" a lot though). All of that I could have overlooked pretty easily if I didn’t feel so conflicted about WHO this novel is for. But, despite the horror these characters are living through, I do appreciate the sensitivity with which the author addressed these topics, especially those of the marginalized communities he writes for—i.e. he as a Jewish man and the help he received for Natalia—and just how important it is for us as a society to never forget and therefore never relive the sins of our fathers, as it were.
Like I said, the topics in this book are important. We need to fight against corporate greed and bigotry, and it’s inspiring to see these young main characters fight for a better world, a more tolerant world. While violence is a part of the issues they fight against, it’s the detail with which all these heartbreaking scenes are given to the reader, which is why I’m giving this 3 stars. If this book isn’t meant for YA audiences, then the way it’s written and the fantastical elements would have me rating this book about the same because they don’t fit well for adult fiction readers, who this detailed content would be better for. I do applaud the author for not shying away from what true racial hate can look like to marginalized communities, but I wouldn’t let a young reader read this book if I am being completely honest. Not to say this book isn’t good! But I think you really have to be in the right mind frame for such a dark, brutal sci-fi dystopian novel. But thank you to the author for the ebook for an honest review!
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