Jamie's sister has been kidnapped. And Jamie is convinced he can save her using the principles of game theory. But is strategy the best option when his little sister's life is at stake? A hugely compelling YA thriller.
Barry Jonsberg's YA novels, The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull and It's Not All About YOU, Calma! were shortlisted for the CBCA awards. It's Not All About YOU, Calma! also won the Adelaide Festival Award for Children's Literature and Dreamrider was shortlisted in the NSW Premier's Awards. Being Here won the QLD Premier's YA Book Award and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Award. My Life as an Alphabet won the Gold Inky, the Children's Peace Literature Award, the Territory Read, Children's Literature/YA Award and the Victorian Premier's Literary Award and was shortlisted in the Prime Minister's Literary Awards, the CBCA awards, the WA Premier's Book Awards and the Adelaide Festival Awards.
Barry lives in Darwin. His books have been published in the USA, the UK, France, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Brazil, Turkey, China and Korea.
Barry Jonsberg has created a fascinating twist on crime fiction in Game Theory. I was gripped by the opening 'half chapter', a Prologue, written with poetic economy. Jonsberg had me at the opening line: 'Clouds part and moonlight steals through my curtains, a silver intruder'. The double barrier of clouds and curtains somehow brought me into the room with young Jamie, and I knew that I would not be able to put this book down until I had finished it.
We are connected first with Jamie through the description of his physical pain and exhaustion, and next by his mental state. He is in pain and exhausted from sitting up in his bed all night holding a gun. Now he is thinking about killing someone by shooting them. What could cause someone to put themselves in this position? Set in an unspecified time and location, it feels like a story that is now, and in a place that is here. The YA novel is about an ordinary family, living an ordinary life; whose lives are changed by a set of numbers. There is a spiralling, escalating change in family dynamics as a result; and an evil, calculating greed and envy arising in others. Events happen fast: frightening, illogical, and nightmarish. A disaffected, self-absorbed teenage girl learns what really matters in life, and a brother proves his intellect and humanity, to himself, to his family, and to the wider world.
This is an ordinary world, and an ordinary life, with a twist of the kind of crime which no one would want to experience. An unhappy, privileged, selfish teenage girl, Summerlee is longing for ‘something else’ in her life. Young Phoebe is just a happy little girl, secure in the love of her family, and Jamie is moving steadily towards manhood, doing OK at school, worrying a little about his parents. Jonsberg uses the technique of first person protagonist as narrator, allowing us to follow the narrative through Jamie's thoughts, interactions, and decision making. This allows us to get to know Jamie and to really like him as a person, as well as to learn about what game theory means to him. It also allows us to be led astray by several 'red herrings', as is Jamie, on the journey of discovery of the perpetrator of the crime. Satisfyingly, Jamie is actually one step ahead of the police in pursuit of his game theory.
Suitable for study at probably lower Secondary level, this novel would equally be enjoyed by older teens. Discussion of Crime & Suspense genres, Family relationships, and certainly of effective writing could all be valuable areas of discussion and study. The idea of game theory could be very fruitful, and attractive to teenage boys.
Helen Wilde, SA
This novel gives an account of the Delaware family at a difficult time. Maths adept Jamie narrates the story of his life at sixteen, which includes his little sister Phoebe, his parents, and his wild older sister Summerlee. After Summerlee wins millions on the lottery and breaks away from the family, they watch and worry from a distance as she spends up big on a wild life of alcohol, drugs and parties. Then Phoebe is taken and held for ransom. There are a host of suspects, as Summerlee hasn’t exactly been discreet about her new wealth. All Jamie can do is use his maths ability as best he can, trying to anticipate which moves, reactions and provocations based on game theory will bring him closer to getting his precious little sister back safely.
This was a really engaging text, and I struggled to put it down once I began reading. The tension starts building early in the storyline, firstly through Jamie’s description of the friction Summerlee creates within the family, and then with the crushing pressure brought about by Phoebe’s disappearance. The reader is kept guessing along with Jamie as to who could be behind Phoebe’s kidnapping, and is drawn into the guilt he wrestles with as he feels responsible for her abduction. This text could be used, in full or in part, to discuss the impact of first person narrative on a reader’s perception of action. It could also form the basis of a study of how tension and atmosphere are created and increased. Key themes which could be explored include family, responsibility to yourself and to others, the corrupting effects of money, and the weight of guilt.
This is a challenging read due to the subject matter of the narrative, and the ending is particularly confronting. Due to this I would recommend this text for mature readers, probably students in Year 10 and above. Both boys and girls would respond to this text. It would also make a good choice for able readers in a literature circles program.
Anne Sim, Dromana College, VIC