Gary Blackwood’s latest adventure novel is a fun and engaging read, though it is rather predictable and heavy-handed in its overarching themes of lying and empathy.
With his mom unemployed and his dad missing in action, 14-year-old actor Ryan Waite is living from gig to gig and can’t be too choosy with the roles he picks. When a private investigator offers him a chance to make a huge chunk of cash, Ryan finds it hard to refuse – even if the “role” involves impersonating a millionaire’s long-lost son. Not surprisingly, Ryan gets in over his head and must struggle to find a way out before his cover is blown.
The “don’t lie” lesson is particularly overt here, yet by playing this theme against the career of an actor (whose job is, basically, to lie), it gains a unique perspective. As he nears the end of his ruse, Ryan ponders the differences between lying onstage and lying in real life, and realizes he can’t stand to tell even one more untruth: “When you were acting onstage, you had the audience’s consent to lie to them. They knew perfectly well that it was all made up, but they chose to accept it, for as long as the show lasted. Real life didn’t work that way.”
Although Ryan’s the sole breadwinner in his household, he still has some growing up to do, and it’s interesting to watch how pretending to be someone else actually helps him mature and develop. Kelley, the sister of the boy he’s impersonating, is particularly instrumental in this process. Their relationship is both touching and humorous, and it’s one of the novel’s most effective aspects, adding a healthy dash of realism to an otherwise fantastical story.