By Nick Lake
Published on November 12th 2013
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Hostage Three is told in the first person from the point of view of Amy, a teenager who's just finished up the UK-equivalent of high school and who has been cajoled into using her "gap year" to travel around the world on a luxury yacht with her father and stepmother. Her relationship with her family is chilly, and she doesn't have much choice but to go along with the trip. When the boat is boarded by pirates off the coast of Somalia, everything changes for Amy and her family.As Amy sets out to sea with her family on a yacht, she's only thinking about the peaceful waters and the warm sun. But she doesn't get either after a group of pirates seize the boat and its human cargo, and the family becomes a commodity in a highly sophisticated transaction. Hostage One is Amy's father--the most valuable. Hostage Three is Amy, who can't believe the nightmare she's in. But something even stranger happens as she builds a bond with one of her captors, making it brutally clear that the price of life and its value are two very different things.
I don't think I would have enjoyed this book quite as much if Nick Lake didn't have a beautiful, lyrical way of writing. Every time I thought I was getting annoyed with the direction the story was taking, Lake would pull it back and make me care about the characters again. In the hands of a lesser author, the plot could have easily turned into something clunky or stereotypical. Amy could have gone two ways: she could have been very shallow and unlikable the whole time. I spent the first part of the book being incredibly annoyed by her attitude, but she grows and becomes more three-dimensional as the book goes on. Or she could have fallen into the role of white savior, "oh look at how enlightened I now am, I'm going to go save all the poor brown people". Fortunately, that doesn't happen, either.
Amy was at times difficult to like, but I think that's a function of her character. She's a girl living a life of extreme privilege, and she doesn't come off as very self-aware about it at all. Her relationship with her stepmother is terrible -- usually that stuff gets semi-validated by having the stepmother be an actual terrible person, but it never felt like that to me in this case. It takes over 80 pages for Amy's stepmother to even get a first name (Sarah) -- she is referred to as "the stepmother" for about 95% of the book. In a flashback, Amy reveals the reason why she decided that she didn't like Sarah, which made me so angry because it was so pointless and such a BS reason. But it said a lot about Amy and how she let something very trivial define her relationship with Sarah. It's also sort of a defense mechanism, since Amy's real reasons for not liking her run a lot deeper, she just doesn't really know how to articulate those thoughts yet. She shows a lot of growth as the book goes on, and at the end you have a lot of hope for her that she'll be a better person.
It also would have been easy to turn the Somalis into one-dimensional evil characters, but instead, Lake gives the two main Somali pirates, the young Farouz and the leader, Ahmed, a lot of depth. Through Farouz relating his life story to Amy, we learn a lot about the very real, tragic circumstances that have led some individuals in Somalia to take up piracy. Not being an expert in the subject matter, I can't speak to how true that part of the story was, but it certainly sounded consistent with real-world accounts and news articles that I've read.
I was initially iffy about the romance aspect between Amy and Farouz, but ultimately I thought it was very well handled. Amy is in reality a fairly troubled girl who is starved for attention. Her father is always at work, she doesn't get along with her stepmother, and her mother died years ago. Despite being her captor, Farouz is kind to Amy and takes an interest in her and her life. He listens to her, something that no one else in her life really does. Amy acknowledges the strangeness and impropriety of falling for a guy who also carries a gun and who can be ordered to kill her at any moment. That doesn't stop her, but the thought's always there in her mind.
As a side note, there is a point around 80% of the way through the book where something happens that, if I were the type to DNF books, I would have just closed out of this one and went NOPE NOPE NOPE. I don't want to spoil it, but when I got to this point, I went straight to Goodreads to check out reviews, something I usually don't do before I've finished a book. Seeing as there was no frothing at the mouth by any reviewer, I figured the plot was going to get straightened out, so I kept going. If you read this one, when you hit that point, keep going, resist the urge to throw the book across the room, because the plot twist that you thought was the most ridiculous, absurd, offensive thing yet, well, it isn't what you think it is.
There is some cursing, underage drinking, and some violence, as well as a side plot dealing with severe mental illness (something else I was iffy on but was eventually surprised at how well it was dealt with). This is probably better for older teens, and could be a good jumping off point for some interesting moral and ethical discussions, particularly around the wars and turmoil in Somalia and the reasons why people like Farouz turn to piracy to survive.