Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Violence 101 by Denis Wright

My name is Hamish Graham and this is the journal I have to write. The people who run this place don’t know what to make of me. Just like the last place I was in.
It is obvious why I am here. I am here because sometimes I do very violent things and I’m too young to be put in jail. (from publisher's site)
Confession: I would not normally be drawn to a book with this title/cover. So when it rocked up I wasn't too sure it would be my thing. 

But, mate: it was insanely compelling, fascinating and just, ugh, I LOVED it.

I read it within two sittings.

It is a New Zealand YA book ~ released in NZ in 2007, and just now released in Australia.

It's the story of one fourteen year old New Zealand boy ~ who is transferred to yet another juvenile detention centre.

He's not a troubled kid with a sad past. He's a mini genius from a good home. A very violent mini genius. Being in his head is completely riveting: from the way he thinks to the things he loves and admires and seeing why he did some of the outrageous and horrifying things he did.

He is the sort of kid that could grow up to be Dexter (from Jeff Lindsay's books, now made into a TV show).

It was amusing. Okay, and a tad horrifying... 
I read it wide-eyed, smirking in parts, stunned in others.

Hamish relates his story in journal entries, and he's a precocious, intelligent little thing ~ there's a great sense of humour in there. Smattered among the journal entries is a present day narrative which includes staff meetings (from an omnipresent POV) and Hamish's life unfolding in the correctional facility. The staff so amused me. The author is a high school teacher, and he nails that dynamic of different staff members grating against one another with differing strong opinions. Funny stuff, hey.

As the story unfolds, Hamish relates different violent episodes from his childhood and each one is equal parts horrifying and intriguing, but above all, original. I don't want to give away spoilers, but some of the acts he did ~ whoa, they were creative and stunning and intelligent. Also, completely mad, yet utterly logical to him.

He's not formally diagnosed in the book, but he's some kind of sociopathic genius. He has delusions of grandeur and a strong sense of honour and justice. He sees the world differently to the rest of us.

There's clues along the way and a perfectly paced unveiling of some of Hamish's crimes ~ which include his most famous crime: manslaughter at the age of ten. As the story hurtles along I kept wondering where it was headed and there's a sense that anything could happen, an undercurrent of dread and suspense.

So... the climax. It was a bit wild. It made for some great drama and I loved the direction the story took ~ but (sorry to be cryptic) when a certain character appeared, I found it a little incredulous and dramatic for my tastes. It still didn't stop me from enjoying it though.

It's well written and compelling and I am thrilled this book has been imported from New Zealand with and Aussie publisher. It is also available internationally. It's a fascinating and strong addition to the New Zealand YA scene.

I absolutely recommend this book: To anyone who is fascinated by psychology and the human mind, to reluctant readers, and especially boys. Even though it is YA, it is a book that will easily be appreciated and enjoyed by adults (my husbands got it on his bedside table to read next).

Bonus stuff:
Hamish has heroes who he aims to live up to. He's obsessed with them: Alexander the Great, Sir Robert Falcon Scott (Scottish explorer), prison escape artists, Joan of Arc, Hitler gets a mention, Charles Upham, Te Rauparaha (New Zealand warrior) and other historically fascinating characters are sprinkled throughout the book. It's like little pockets of intrigue weaved into the story ~ like reading the engrossing stuff out of a Guiness Book of Records ~ it's an engrossing look at some violent and impressive heroes from the past.

At 174 pages, Violence 101 packs a lot of punch. I devoured it and so enjoyed it. It's a perfect length for a riveting story.

New Zealand
& International cover
Quote: He (Alexander the Great) was probably responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, some historians say 750, 000. And how is he remembered today? Alexander the Brutal? Alexander the Freak? Alexander the Sadistic Psycho? No way - he is simply referred to as Alexander the Great. How do you think he would get on today? I think he'd get a hard time like me, and be regarded as a dangerous lunatic.

Violence 101 @ black dog books
violence 101 @ goodreads

many thanks to black dog books for providing me with this review copy

Unrelated (to this review) update: Thanks for your well wishes. You're all pretty awesome ;) I'm on bed rest until March (!) which seems like forever away ~ but am starting to sneak about on-line for small pockets of time... really looking forward to hanging out with you all again, hey. Annnnd... looking forward to sharing some reviews (finally catching up on some reading while being in bed all day!) I just finished a paranormal YA today that I LOVED ~ which so surprised me, being a contemp girl and all :) So hoping to share my thoughts on that soon.

xo Nomes


  1. Glad you are feeling some better, and please keep the sneaking to a minimum (don't need a relapse).

    As for this review and book, wow I am truly intrigued and want very much to be inside this kids head and see what makes him tick.

    Be well!

  2. Love your review Nomes! I started out thinking there is no way I'd be able to read this book (due to thinking it will probably be way too disturbing for me) but have decided that i'll have to give it a shot at some point. Sounds amazing.

    March isn't THAT far away, only 2 weeks :D and I can't believe you actually liked, wait no loved, a paranormal YA! Whatever book it is, it must be brilliant!


  3. Great review as usual Nomes!

    And yay, glad to see you're feeling a bit better and hope to see your smiling face around the Net again soon :)

  4. This sounds awesome. Darky, edgy and a little thought provoking. Adding it to my wishlist thanks to another one of your brilliant reviews (which I have missed).

    Love the cover too :)

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Added it to the list, sounds excellent! Glad to hear you're on the mend too :-)

  7. WOW. this sounds like a fantabulous book! I'm going to have to look for it. thanks for the rec :)

  8. Wow March, that's proper sickness, glad you are on the mend though and very glad you're sneaking on to the internet. I've missed your posts and your comments :)

    This one sounds crazy. Your review made me really want to read it, but I am such a wimp I'm not sure! Maybe if I only read in the day time. The historial figures thing sounds cool.

  9. OH! OH! MUST GET!!!!!!!!!

    This sounds like exactly the kind of book that would be good research for my next WIP. I don't my MC to be quite as dark as you describe this MC to be, but he is definitely a little psycho. :)

    I shall go looking for it online RIGHT NOW!

    *hugs* So glad you're feeling well enough to post! *Hops up and down*

  10. Woot! They have it at B&N.


  11. i've missed you reviews. glad you're back :)

  12. Great review. This sounds like exactly my kind of book. Sticking it in my cart now...

  13. Glad you're feeling a little better! And that you're back to blogging :). This books sounds intriguing, it's not something I'd usually read, but we just studies something a bit similar in Psychology so maybe this would be a good read to advance my understanding. Great review, thanks! And it's really great to have you back :P.

  14. I'm so glad to see you're back! I hope you're completely ok very soon :)
    Violence 101 sounds like a book I would like! I haven't read any New Zealand YA novels and I would love to start with this book.

  15. I have seen this book around but I never really took the time to think about it because it looked kind of... out there, but after reading your review i definitely want to get my hands on it! Im always looking for books with tons of originality and i think this one totally fits the bill :) thanks for your review! =) and feel better soon! :)


    Ahh, I've missed you! Glad to hear you are feeling better!

  17. So glad you are feeling better! That does seem like a long time, but hopefully when you're feeling okay it means more time for reading! Big hugs that you'll be all shiny and better soon. :)

    This one sounds really great - I'm a huge Dexter fangirl and as strange as it sounds, psychopaths have always fascinated me. I can't wait to read this one, it sounds really interesting. Fantastic review!
    I'm super interested to see what this paranormal YA is that has caught your fancy... it must be good!

  18. Awesome review! This book sounds INTENSE, I'll definitely need to check this out sometime. The US cover looks VERY different. :o

  19. Oh my gosh. A guy that could possibly be a Dexter from one of my favourite tv shows ever?!?! I must read this. Seriously, I'll be adding this to my wishlist! Thanks for your review! And I'm glad you're able to catch up on reading while you're on bed rest! Just keep resting and save your energy :) Happy reading!

  20. Nomes, I'm glad that you're better and back! I love your review - I just finished Violence 101 last night and it gave me a lot of ponder, so I jumped on the net to find out what others thought... I esp like your comment about Hamish growing up to become Dexter!


Thanks for the commenty love :)