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Nickel Plated by Aric Davis
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May 22, 2011

Nickel is a twelve year old runaway who’s gone to ground. He disappeared from the foster care system two years earlier, after years of abuse, and now he’s on his own. Now, if there’s a job you need done, whether it’s spreading counterfeit money or tracking down your son, he’s your guy. Carefully camouflaged as a typical kid, he’s rarely noticed and often underestimated. A survivor, he’s observant, paranoid, well-armed, and prone to lucky hunches. He’s also a risk taker, with no compunction about blowing up a telephone pole with a pipe bomb if he thinks it will get him the information he needs. Nickel also sells pot and blackmails pedophiles to pay the bills. Since he has this money to support himself, he can take on the case when Arrow asks him to search for her missing sister. For Nickel, rescuing other kids from bad situations, and especially sexual predators, is personal.

As an adult reader who’s read Robert Parker’s Spenser novels, I felt echoes of Spenser throughout: Nickel’s wiseguy dialogue, his willingness to take on what seems like lost cases for free, and his stance that you stand up for what’s right even at personal cost. The hardboiled language is jarring, since I don’t expect any twelve year old to talk like that, and Nickel doesn’t seem to have reservations about doing things that are unethical (like actively helping counterfeiters and selling pot) but if Spenser raised a kid, one with technological savvy, violent tendencies, and a survivor’s mentality, that kid might turn out something like Nickel. Teens who read Nickel Plated probably won’t pick up on this- they’ll just be caught up in the gripping story, the environment he’s created (he has a serious weapons cache and knows how to use it), and the curious relationships he has with the adults in his life. They may also identify with the struggle to fit in and protect that hard shell, even when you’ve chosen to step outside the mainstream.

Nickel Plated gets into dark territory. Child pornography, chatting up pedophiles, kidnapping and selling children… these are really stomach-turning, and it’s difficult to read. Davis leaves quite a bit unsaid- we can guess, but don’t know for sure, exactly what happened with Nickel before he finally escaped foster care, because he’s never able to fully talk about it. And there is no real happy ending. While it can be awfully hard to sympathize with Nickel, readers will feel their hearts break with him. Unusual, thought-provoking, and horrifying at times, Nickel Plated is a sharp contrast to much of the fluff in the YA market today. The author, Aric Davis, will be an attraction as well- he is a piercing artist and punk rocker. That combination alone ought to pull in some recalcitrant readers. Highly recommended.

Contains: Violence, implied child pornography, references to pedophilia, references to masturbation, child selling

Review by Kirsten Kowalewski
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