I was riveted by the teen/YA audiobook Code of Honor by Alan Gratz, a suspenseful, original novel that I finished in record time! The excellent audio production, read by Dan Bittner, kept me on the edge of my seat.
Seventeen-year old Kamran Smith is riding high and has his life all planned out. He’s the star quarterback at his high school, dates the most popular girl in school, is a shoe-in for Homecoming King, and is being pursued by college recruiters. But the only college Kamran is interested in is West Point Military Academy. He has known he wanted to go there and join the Army ever since his big brother, Darius, went there seven years earlier. Darius is now an elite Army Ranger, and Kamran wants to follow in his footsteps.
Kamran’s life – and his future – suddenly collapses, though, when Darius appears on television, dressed like a terrorist, claiming responsibility for the bombing of the US Embassy in Turkey, where 53 people died. Kamran and his parents don’t believe it’s true – their first instinct is that someone must be forcing Darius to say that – but the US government believes it. They say that Darius is a deserter who has turned into a terrorist. Overnight, Kamran goes from one of the most popular kids at school to a pariah that no one will talk to or even look in the eye. It reminds Kamran of other moments of prejudice he’s experienced throughout his life because of his Arab-like looks.
That’s just the beginning. The US government shows up at their house and takes Kamran into custody in the middle of the night. Kamran has no idea where he’s been taken but endures days and days of relentless questioning. These people – whoever they are – are convinced that Darius has become a terrorist. Kamran tries to explain to them that although his mother was born in Iran, they aren’t practicing Muslims. He also points out that his mother’s family isn’t even the same kind of Muslim as the terrorists, but no one seems to be listening to him. Meanwhile, more terrorist acts have occurred with Darius appearing on TV after each one and tension building as the terrorists warn of a bigger upcoming attack.
One day, while studying the videos of Darius over and over and over with one of the agents, Kamran thinks he notices his brother trying to send him a secret message based on the games they used to play as children. He tries to tell the agents about his suspicions, but no one will listen to him. How can he get out of this mysterious facility (wherever it is) and prove Darius’ innocence? And what if he’s wrong and Darius really is responsible for all of this death and destruction?
This is a gripping, action-packed story from beginning to end, yet it also has incredible emotional depth. I was moved by the brothers’ relationship and Kamran’s memories of their childhood together – it reminded me of our own two sons and the silly games they would make up together. In addition to the suspense and heart, though, this novel also raises serious questions about the world we are living in today, where national security trumps family and where people often makes snap judgments (as Kamran’s classmates did) based on outward appearances.
Suspense and urgent questions propel this narrative forward at a fast pace, as Kamran struggles to figure out what to believe and how he can help end this madness. He doesn’t know whom to trust (if anyone) and feels alone in his belief in his brother’s innocence against all the evidence piling up. Neither he nor the reader knows if his loyalty is misplaced. Gratz takes you on an emotional rollercoaster ride in a thriller that is timely and relevant.