Five teen-aged boys from an idyllic small American town venture into a forbidden forest, and are touched by a mysterious power that enhances their senses. With these heightened sensibilities, they become crime fighters, almost superheroes, at night, battling the destructive forces tearing their neighboring town apart.
The premise of The Urban Boys has potential as a young-adult story-line (I would say especially for a graphic novel) but in author K.N. Smith’s handling of the tale, the potential is not realized. There are several reasons for this: flowery prose inappropriate for the genre and the target audience; convoluted world-building containing far too much detail about issues not feeding the plot, and unrealistic familial relationships.
The author’s bio states she is a ‘passionate advocate of childhood literacy’, and The Urban Boys reads as if the intent was to provide moral messages and/or guidance embedded in an adventure story, aimed, I would guess, at early-teen boys. The characters and their families represent a fairly diverse section of middle America, with students from several races and various family dynamics as the protagonists, providing a range of characters for young male readers to identify with. Action sequences (including an overly detailed football game) punctuate the plot at frequent intervals. But the overwritten prose and the convoluted plot development would, in my experience (twenty-five years of teaching focused on students with behavioral and learning disabilities) make The Urban Boys inaccessible to many of the putative audience.
I found the family relationships in The Urban Boys unrealistic. Although set up to be a cross-section of families: a single divorced mother; a father raising two boys after the death of his alcoholic wife; a twenty-something sister looking after her younger brother after the loss of their mother to breast cancer, there were few real conflicts and too much easy understanding to be representative of what really happens in families. This underestimates the ability of young readers to recognize when a story reflects real life – and even in a young-adult fantasy, the core of the story should be recognizable to readers, regardless of the presence of magic in the world.
If good intentions made a good novel, then The Urban Boys would rate at least four stars. But they don’t, and the best I can give it is two.
The author provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.