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Julian

by William Bell

In Julian, author William Bell of Orillia, Ontario, delivers an enthralling, unpredictable novel that will please its YA audience and captivate many adult readers as well.

At only 15 years old, Aidan has been in foster care for most of his life, and he wants nothing more than to break free from the system and live on his own terms. The opportunity to do so comes suddenly when he rescues a young boy from being kidnapped. The boy’s grandfather, Mr. Bai, is a powerful and mysterious businessman who, in appreciation for Aidan’s actions, offers the young man anything he wants. Aidan asks to disappear.

Mr. Bai creates a new life for Aidan under the name Julian Paladin, complete with identity papers, credit cards, a job, and an apartment. Rather than achieving independence, however, Aidan finds himself drawn into an off-the-books job with a low-end private investigator; a strange, dizzying relationship with a beautiful French girl named Ninon; and a series of mysteries concerning his enigmatic benefactor. As the novel progresses, the suspense is raised to an almost unbearable degree.

Bell has crafted a complex, rich, and realistic protagonist and a well-developed world. Aidan’s Toronto is recognizable, but imbued with an underbelly that may shock even readers who know the city. Drawing on mystery and thriller elements, Bell delivers a plot that – while necessarily and artfully contrived – unfolds with a natural inevitability.

The form of Aidan’s triumph, when it comes, will utterly surprise most readers, elevating the book to something grand and unexpected. Unusual takes on coming-of-age and teen romance coalesce into a powerfully impressive piece of storytelling that is much greater than the sum of its parts: alternately thrilling, heartbreaking, and affirming.