2.5 / 5 Stars; Queer, Young Adult Science Fiction
Ninth-grader Chase and his grandfather have always shared a close relationship and a love of science that's kept Chase afloat during the rocky years of adolescence. But Grandad has disappeared, and Chase is determined to find him.
While everyone insists that the jet engineer died in a plane crash, Chase disagrees. When Chase discovers a mysterious flying machine that appears in front of his house and takes it for a test flight, he is introduced to the technology, and the team, that his grandfather was working with when he disappeared.
Chase is positive that finding his grandfather means continuing in his footsteps as the leader of this team competing in a Hunger Games-style tournament for glory and survival. Chase and his grandfather’s team of experts will train to tackle the Military Camouflage Challenge (MCSquared). But even among his grandfather’s team, Chase struggles to convince them his grandfather's alive. As the team equips Chase with the latest technology and techniques for surviving the MCSquared’s uber-ruthless version of hide-and-seek, Chase is relentlessly searching for any clues or connections to his grandfather’s disappearance.
Chase: The Boy Who Hid is somewhat of a coming-of-age story that watches the main character tackle the emotional aftermath of tragedy while navigating the dynamics of power struggles, adolescent relationships, and romance. The prose is confident and fits the middle grade/young adult tone, and the author’s dexterity with humor is admirable.
To the credit of the author, Z. Jeffries, the book goes out of its way to diversify the backgrounds of the characters, including characters who are racially, sexually, and romantically diverse. As Chase begins to explore his own romantic identity, he also grapples with how to react to these diverse backgrounds. But following Chase along in his story, I began to feel uncomfortable about his reactions and about the manifestation of common tropes in the presentation of those backgrounds. I concluded that the story scratches the surface of diversity, but unfortunately doesn't embrace it with authenticity. Characters fulfill stereotypical roles, present stereotypical speech patterns, and maintain stereotypical attitudes depending upon their race, gender identity, and sexual preference. The characters are given the stage, but then denied the ability to present themselves as individuals on that stage, instead being relegated to the same roles they've filled time and again in literature, TV, and cinema. A Latino man is tough, an Asian is a tech guy, a black girl is angry, a nonbinary character is brooding.
Compounding these issues, Chase seems to face each of these characters with stereotypical white cisgender confusion, and his reactions to aspects of these characters with which he is unfamiliar can therefore be insensitive and rude. The result is a cast of offensive caricatures rather than characters with deep personalities, individual experiences, and motivations.
I do think the author had good intentions when spotlighting such a diverse array of characters, but unfortunately the story didn't put in the work to explore the complexity of these characters, and readers may find these stereotypical depictions and sweeping generalizations offensive.
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