The Cut Out by Jack Heath

Monday, October 26, 2015

Fero isn't a spy.

But he looks exactly like someone who is: Troy Maschenov - a ruthless enemy agent.

But what starts as a case of mistaken identity quickly turns into a complicated and dangerous plan. Fero is recruited to fight for his country. He will have to impersonate Troy, enter enemy territory, hunt down a missing agent and bring her home in time to prevent a devastating terror attack.

Fero is in way over his head. Hastily trained, loaded up with gadgets and smuggled across the border, he discovers the truth about espionage.

Getting in is easy. Getting out alive is hard.

The Cut Out is set in Besmar and Kamau, two small countries wedged between Ukraine and Russia. I was not 100% sure that these were fictional countries, so I may have scrolled around on Google Maps for a bit, thinking perhaps there's some basis in reality. Which I think speaks highly of the attention to detail and authenticity when it came to the setting. Either that, or my total inability to distinguish between fiction and reality. It requires some suspension of disbelief to buy that a fourteen-year-old who has been picked up off the street would be sent off on a secretive mission within a matter of hours, even in a foreign (and fictional) country; it becomes clear why this occurs at a later point, but in the meantime I was very concerned for Fero's welfare. Maybe I'm getting old.

While it's fast-paced and action-packed and all those adjectives an adventure novel for young people should be, I think it also explores themes that are relevant in the real world with quite a lot of nuance and subtlety - like how conflicts change depending on your perspective, and how information is manipulated by the media (I was reminded of 1984, and how the country they were at war with, and had always been at war with, changed on a regular basis). Having read Jack Heath's novels since 2008, I think it's clear how much he has developed as a writer - even though he continues to write in the same genre, there's nothing stagnant about his work. I think it can be a risk in any genre for certain writers, once finding success, to keep producing the same novel every year; that's not the case here.

I think a lot of kids go through a phase of wanting to be a spy - as a ten-year-old I loved the Max Remy: Superspy series (I met Deb Abela, the author, when I was fifteen, and I almost fainted), and was obsessed with spies and codes and eavesdropping. The Cut Out would especially appeal to these readers. It has some very intense scenes, so I'd recommend it for upper primary readers and up; I think my twelve-year-old self would probably enjoy it most, but it depends on the reader. It certainly appeals to me as a twenty-one-year-old reader, too.

I'm very much looking forward to the sequel to The Cut Out, and seeing where Fero's story goes next. Mainly I hope there's more twists. The twists are the best part.

The Cut Out on the publisher's website.
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