November 12, 2013

Script Kiddie: Assured Destruction, Book 2

by Michael F. Stewart
Non Sequitur Press
212 pp.
Ages 12+
August 29, 2013

When I reviewed Michael F. Stewart's Assured Destruction on March 21, 2013, I knew that this computer thriller heralded a great new series for young adults.  The second book in the Assured Destruction series, Script Kiddie, has proven me right.

The 2000 hours of community service that 16-year-old Janus Rose was given (as a consequence of her indirect involvement in cyber-attacks on those whose hard-drives she'd not destroyed) in Assured Destruction has the teen helping Detective Williams and snarky Constable Ethan Chow of the Ottawa Police Department in the High Tech Crime Unit.  Janus' computer skills, honed at her multiple computers (and Shadownet personalities), are exceptional and her problem-solving, while sometimes impetuous, lets her think outside the box readily.

Janus' first police case involves discovering how credit card information is being stolen from the very bank that has tried to foreclose on their home and company! Unfortunately, her quirky ideas about undercover work and her sincere interest in warning potential victims gets her off that case officially (though Janus doesn't always follow the rules) and instead profiling a killer from his laptop.

At school, Janus is drawn in to helping her classmate/friend Hannah who's been lured by an older man to submit nude photos of herself and needs help in getting away online from the man who continues to harrass and even threaten her.  Soon after, though, Hannah wants Janus to back off, and Janus doesn't know how she can truly help the teen.

To help in her investigations, Janus looks to the internet for a community of hackers with skills beyond her own.  But, after trying to ingratiate herself into, she is expunged for being a Skiddie a.k.a. a Script Kiddie, a naive wannabee hacker. It's only when she gets a bit of assistance from her mother's boyfriend, Peter, a retired computer security consultant, that she finds a way to be accepted at Darkslinger and get some much-needed help.

I haven't even mentioned the turmoil going on at home as Janus' mother's multiple sclerosis progresses, leaving her weaker and going blind, and Janus looks into the state of their finances.  Sadly, it's evident that the business, Assured Destruction, is not making enough money to pay the bills and upcoming mortgage payments.

For a sixteen-year-old, Janus does incredibly and credibly well.  Michael F. Stewart has not created an unbelievable superhero-esque teen.  She gets people angry at her, she makes poor choices (though usually with the best of intentions), she doesn't know who to trust, she tries to make things right, she skips school occasionally, she worries about her ailing mother, she wonders about her father who left, she likes to make out with her boyfriend Jonny (though her time with him is limited), she's tech savy and willing to learn what she doesn't know, and she does her homework (usually).  She's a teen with a lot on her plate and sometimes it slips off and then she gets more loaded on, but Janus just keeps on trying.  Not surprising that one of her Shadownet alter-egos, Gumps advises that,
"If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.  H. G. Wells" (pg. 156)
There is no time for the Script Kiddie reader to wallow in Janus' turmoil either, as the plot is fast-paced and relentless in its subplotting. While some readers may relate to the circumstances of Janus' life and the situations into which she stumbles so easily and innocently, Janus is like no one else.  Janus and Michael F. Stewart's other characters, many who are virtual or unidentifiable, are still surprisingly real and distinct. I don't know whether Michael F. Stewart has based these characters on real persons or not but that's quite a feat when there's only voice to give them substance. Having learned that Michael F. Stewart is also Mike Stewart, author of a number of graphic novels for Oxford University Press' Boldprint Graphic Novels series, I suspect his creativity spans different media, beyond text alone. That would explain the depth and texture of his writing and its ability to extend beyond dimensions rarely experienced in novels. Younger readers will not need to worry but I hope that as a "mature" teacher-librarian I can continue to navigate the digital and virtual dimensions with ease as I am already anticipating Books 3 and 4 in the Assured Destruction series.

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