Book Critique: Goldstrike
It turns out Goldstrike, by Matt Whyman, is a sequel. Perhaps not the second book in a trilogy, but a continuation of a story begun in Icecore. It’s the story of Carl Hobbes, an 18-year old infamous hacker. Goldstrike picks up from where the first book left off: Carl has escaped from the maximum security prison in the Arctic and is on the run from the CIA.
The first question is, was I lost in the story having not read the first book? I don’t think I was. Matt does a good job with filling in the details of the last book without stopping the current story and explaining everything. He accomplished that much in the same way that Kenneth Oppel did with the Airborn series, by slipping in bits of exposition when it becomes appropriate to the story.
Matt does something unique with his point of view: Carl’s part of the story is told in first person, but there are chapters that switch to not one but two people who are pursuing him. In those scenes, we go even further and get a omniscient POV that also describes what other characters as well are feeling. So it’s a combination of first-person with Carl, and slightly omniscient third-person with the other characters.
I say “slightly” omniscient because even while we’re with the other characters, we occasionally get sentences like, “The assassin begins to read the file and then appears to remind herself of the task in hand.” Using the word “appears” makes it seem like someone is watching her do these things, but at the same time we are hearing her thoughts.
I wasn’t ever confused which character we were with when the POV switched, which is the only way a truly omniscient POV can work. However, switching from first- to third-person doesn’t flow as well as it could, and sentences like the one above make for an abrupt zoom-out when you think you’re in limited third-person.
One thing that rubbed me wrong was it felt like things were explained a lot. Granted, Carl is hacking computers, which requires explanation, but the prose felt like simply telling me the actions that were happening, almost as if the book were a screenplay and not a book. I didn’t feel the rush of Carl breaking into a computer, and I didn’t feel the magic of how good he was. I was told he opens a virus and uses a program to track keystrokes, but in actuality I don’t want to know exactly how he does it. In actuality I want him to be so good that I don’t understand what he’s doing. Perhaps third-person would have worked better than first-person?
The story is told in present tense, which works for the most part. I think I’ve read enough present tense books lately (a lot of YA books use present tense) that I get used to it quickly. The difference between Goldstrike and how present tense works in The Hunger Games is that in Hunger Games it gives the story an immediacy that heightens the tension of the Games. In Goldstrike, it didn’t fee like it added much to the story.
In regards to the plot and pacing, the story is actually a fairly small one. Granted, it’s a 262-page book for ages 12 and up, but the story is mostly about Carl working his way into a supercomputer, and it mostly takes place in that one building. There isn’t much tension, because he does it so easily. That was another thing: he hacked an incredibly smart supercomputer without barely any work. It says he’s sweating, but he gets in during one night shift and all I could think was, “Wouldn’t the computer tell someone that a new user account had been added?”
This could all be chalked up to me being 27 and wanting more sophistication in a story. Matt finished the book and I can see the action take place in my head. And, of course, I’m started with the second book. But I think what I can learn from this is what I personally don’t want to do in my books. Personally, I don’t want to mix first- and third-person POVs; I don’t want to use present tense unless it really adds to the story; I don’t want to explain things; and I want the story to move more and faster.
- Published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
- Jacket design and illustration by Sammy Yuen Jr.