After the wonderful surprise that was Fog, I didn’t expect to be as disappointed as I was by The Terrorist. While Fog balanced out its sillier YA-typical elements with a well-crafted tone of eeriness and a reasonably strong female protagonist, The Terrorist stars an obnoxious teenage girl who flaunts her extreme nationalism and rampant xenophobia.
I mean, my goodness. I like the US as much as the next citizen, but hearing Laura go on and on about how it’s simply the only country worth living in is incredibly annoying. Her attitude is downright ludicrous. America and Americans are the only good place and people in the world, according to Laura. Meanwhile, the Brits are our eccentric, backwards neighbors across the pond, and everyone else is a terrorist.
When Laura’s little brother Billy is killed by a bomb of unknown origin and motive, Laura decides that one of the other children at her international school for rich expats—one of her friends—is the terrorist behind it. Why? Because reasons! Reasons that don’t make sense to anyone but Laura. So, of course, she interrogates each and every one of her friends. She forces them to show her their passports in order to prove they’re really Americans. The Japanese American kid? She wants to know his entire family tree, and then implies he’s lying because he couldn’t possibly look so Japanese with that background.
And let’s not get started on Laura’s views of Middle Eastern people.
Now, here’s the thing. Laura is an extremely unsympathetic protagonist. She’s a massive brat. She’s entitled and selfish. She’s unashamedly xenophobic and extremely nationalistic. She’s dowright insufferable.
In other words, Laura is the perfect “lesson protagonist”. Laura is an American-loving, foreigner-accusing young woman, and she desperately needs someone to open her eyes to the fact that the world is not in fact populated by cardboard cutouts of stereotypical human beings. And when Laura makes friends with the beautiful and exotic Jehran, a childlike and proper Muslim girl, it looks like she might just be coming around to the idea.
And then Jehran turns out to be the terrorist. She’s just using Laura to get into the United States. Her cohorts killed Billy so she could use his passport.
Mother of god. The entire book built up this sense of, “Laura sure is prejudiced, ain’t she? Ready to see her learn to respect other cultures?” …and then at the last minute shoved in a, “Surprise! Laura was right all along! Those tricky Muslims sure are something, aren’t they?”
I don’t really know what to say. I spent most of the book hoping that Cooney was going to use Laura as an example of how prejudice is harmful and foolish, but the ending only validates and reinforces Laura’s worst qualities—and it doesn’t even have the decency to provide the stereotypical Muslim terrorist cell with any motive. Their identities aren’t revealed. Their plan isn’t explained. There’s not even any proof that Jehran was a terrorist, just Laura and her Scotland Yard buddy babbling about Jehran’s supposed crimes. After all, there’s no evidence that ties Jehran or her mysterious family to Billy’s death, and the bomb that Laura accused her of having didn’t exist.
All in all, I’m very glad I read Fog first; otherwise, I would have been seriously rethinking my decision to purchase Code Orange and Return of the Vampire.
A copy of this book was provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.