IA Initiate by John Darryl Winston tells the coming-of-age story of thirteen-year-old Naz Andersen, who lives with his younger sister, Meri, as foster children to a parent who has very little interest in their lives but more in the money she gets for taking the children in. Naz and Meri are basically left to their own devices as they go day to day in the grimy neighborhood called The Exclave.
The Exclave is a typical ghetto area of America, rife with gangs. Naz attempts to go unnoticed in the streets and at school, but this proves more difficult than expected. He tries to be innocuous at home, too, but his sleepwalking and the fact that he hears voices cannot always be ignored. His protectiveness of his younger sister often makes him more of a target.
Naz, however, is not your average thirteen-year-old. As I have already mentioned, Naz hears voices. This generally happens in times of great stress and anger, but do the voices belong to him or to someone else? Another intriguing aspect to Naz is that he has a no memory of life prior to a few years ago. There is definitely more to Naz than meets the eye. Like many young teenagers, he has a lot to come to terms with: he must navigate friendships, family, therapists, and gang violence, as well as face the full force of the world around him. The only way he can survive is to discover the supernatural world within.
I love the way Winston has written the relationship between Naz and Meri; she is a fun, intelligent yet sassy character who dotes on her brother and desperately wants to help him but is unable to really understand him. I am not sure that this story will grab an adult audience, but the depth of Winston’s characters and the story’s complexity may make this enjoyable for the YA market for which it was intended.