Wes, my editor in the US, has sent me some Lockdown feedback from the review journals and I’m happy to say it’s all good news! Lockdown has also been named as one of the top ten American Library Association’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers which is awesome! I’ve posted the reviews below!
VOYA (Voice of American Youth Association)
Fourteen-year-old Alex gets into trouble—not the kind of trouble that would come back to haunt him but enough to make life interesting. He and his friends beat up kids for money, and have gotten good at pilfering from houses. Alex’s deceitful ways catch up with him when a group of men in black frame him for murder. Alex is tried and convicted within a matter of days and is sent to hell on Earth—or rather below the Earth—Furnace Penitentiary. Kids who are sent to Furnace never come out. The men in black torture the inmates, sometimes taking them in the middle of the night only to have them resurface as monstrous creatures whose sole purpose is to kill. Alex knows he must find a way out of Furnace before the men in black come for him, but no one has ever escaped. Will he be the one to find the way out?
This novel is Smith’s debut in the United States. It is one of those leave-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thrill rides that will grab the reader right from the start. Teens will appreciate Smith’s vivid imagery. His writing is extremely fluid, and he makes the reader feel for the characters, especially the young protagonist, Alex. Readers will be cheering him on from start to finish. Look for the sequel, Solitary, forthcoming in 2010. Readers will be anxious to see where Alex’s adventures take him next.—Jonatha Basye.
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
R [= Recommended]
Grade 9 – 12
After an eruption of gang violence bleeds into Britain’s middle- and upper-class neighborhoods, leaving hundreds of innocents dead, authorities decide to build Furnace Penitentiary. Located a mile underground, it’s the world’s most secure prison, and the final destination for accused youth regardless of their guilt or innocence. Framed for his best friend’s murder, fourteen-year-old Alex Sawyer begins his life sentence in Furnace and discovers that the terrifying rumors of its bleakness pale in comparison with the prison’s horrific reality. Ruthless guards, hard labor, mutated monsters, and the constant threat of death force Alex to attempt what has never been done before–escape. Not for the faint-hearted, this dramatic British import is both a page- and stomach-turner. Alex’s narration depicts with harsh clarity the prison’s pitiless brutality, his choice of metaphors becoming increasingly coarse as if it to remind the reader of the true wretchedness of his surroundings. Meanwhile, the pacing is superb, building on the tension as each horror is revealed while saving the ultimate monstrosity for the cliffhanger ending. Granted, Alex himself and the other boys he meets within Furnace are a bit two-dimensional; nonetheless, readers will find themselves rooting for even the most violent of the inmates as they try to make their escape and defeat the Furnace.
ALA’s School Library Journal
Gr 7-10–When Alex Sawyer, 15, is sentenced to life in a horrific underground prison for a murder he didn’t commit, his nightmare is only beginning. Ever since the Summer of Slaughter, when gangs such as the Skulls and the Fifty-niners went on a murderous rampage, the government has been throwing away the key on juvenile offenders. “New fish” Alex and cellmate Donovan sleep in pitch-black darkness patrolled by furless dogs with silver eyes and “blacksuits” in gas masks. Unpredictable siren wails keep prisoners in check, forcing them to race back to their cells before the bars close–lockdown–or risk being killed. Alex is also “Skull Fodder,” at the mercy of inmate gang members, and he realizes how similarly he once bullied kids in his own school. Smith builds a convincing atmosphere of fear and oppression until one day Alex catches a waft of fresh air from an off-limits area near his work zone. He becomes obsessed with the idea of escaping, and the mood shifts with the glimmer of hope that there could be a way out. Once a plot is hatched, readers will be turning pages without pause, and the cliff-hanger ending will have them anticipating the next installment. Most appealing is Smith’s flowing writing style, filled with kid-speak, colorful adjectives, and amusing analogies. Fans of James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” and Darren Shan’s “The Demonata” series (both Little, Brown) will find this satisfying fare.–Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY
Realms of Fantasy
Petty thief Alex’s latest heist turns tragic and life-altering when he’s interrupted by a set of mysterious men, who kill his best friend and frame him for the murder. Victim of Britain’s new zero-tolerance policy, he’s sentenced to life in Furnace, a bizarre, inhumane prison located a mile underground. Now he has to contend with vicious youth gangs, horrifying jailors, and the disturbing secrets of the world’s deadliest penitentiary, where death is nowhere near the worst thing that can happen. Alex will escape, or die trying. This nightmarish start to a new series is unrelentingly bleak, uniquely horrifying, and strangely compelling.
Positing a near-future backlash against teen crime (and teens in general), Smith sets his series opener in a squalid prison for juvenile offenders built deep underground and patrolled by surgically altered supermen with vicious, skinless dogs. Framed (like a suspicious number of his fellow inmates) for a murder he did not commit, Alex is plunged into a desperate struggle for survival amid constant sirens, lurid lighting, nightmares, gang violence, and terrifying encounters with the prison’s scary guardians. Smith establishes a quick pace with an opening chase described in staccato prose, closes with a convoluted but explosive escape for Alex and a handful of allies, and in between crafts a picture of prison life less raw and hideous than what is found in, for instance, Adam Rapp’s Buffalo Tree (1997), but frightening enough to boost reader interest in sequels.