I know I complain about annoying straight, white teenage boy protagonists all the time, and you’d think I’d learn to simply stay away from books featuring them. But I believe in people, and I keep hoping that the next book will be better. And also, it’s surprisingly hard to avoid books with these protagonists.
The Merit Birds has a lot of potential. Volatile, resentful Cam is a teenager that leave behind his life as a popular basketball star in Canada to live in Laos with his mother who works in development. It’s an interesting start as Cam arrives in Laos, feeling the culture shock, but his constant resentment towards everyone and everything, and his self-pity and temper is frankly tiresome – and really boring. They say you should never have a perfect protagonist – well, in that regard, Cam wins.
All of the characters in the book revolve around Cam in some way. Powell switches points of view between Cam and some native Lao characters. This includes Seng, a chubby dreamer who wants to go to America to be with his older sister, and his sister Nok, a pretty masseuse who has to work instead of go to school.
Eventually, Nok and Cam strike up a tentative romance which goes terribly wrong, and Cam finds himself in jail and Seng finds himself on the run.
I took an immediate, irrational dislike to Cam, which definitely coloured my opinion of this book. Perhaps Powell felt like she had to get into the mind of a teenage boy, which is why whenever Cam looks at a girl, he has to comment on how “sexy” she is. I think she may have gone a little overboard, because it’s incredibly irritating. However, by the end of the book, he becomes a marginally better person, which I suppose is the point of the book.
Rather than concentrate on all of Cam’s woes, I would have much rather seen more of the other characters, especially Nok who was not given a whole lot of character development, save for her falling for white guys.
Verdict: if you can stand obnoxious and self-pitying teenage boys, you may enjoy The Merit Birds.
The Merit Birds comes out on May 2, 2015.