The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Does Whatever An iPhone Can (review: iBoy by Kevin Brooks)

Kevin Brooks
Penguin 2010

Before the attack, sixteen-year-old Tom Harvey was just an ordinary boy. But now fragments of a shattered iPhone are embedded in his brain and it's having an extraordinary effect...Because now Tom has powers - the ability to know and see more than he could ever imagine. And with incredible power comes knowledge - and a choice. Seek revenge on the violent gangs that rule his estate and assaulted his friend Lucy, or keep quiet? Tom has control when everything else is out of control. But it's a dangerous price to pay. And the consequences are terrifying.
(blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

I can't say that I was overly sold on the premise of this book. Boy becomes part iPhone? Give me a break... I had also read another Kevin Brooks book and hadn't been hugely impressed, but there was something intriguing about this title. To be honest, the idea showed such amazing originality that I couldn't help but wonder how it would pan out. What I finally realised once I started reading was that this was a superhero story and like all good fables, had depth, moral questions and an enigmatic central character. What can I say? I likes me a good superhero...

Tom Harvey is the enigma in this tale. An inherently likable character, he is very much your average teenage boy – spending his time trying to stay out of trouble on the Crow Lane Estate and wondering if he should try and make a move on long time friend, and girl of his dreams, Lucy. All is well and good until an iPhone comes hurtling down from the top of a tower block and embeds itself in his skull – leaving fragments that surgeons cannot remove. Suddenly Tom is, literally, connected. The fragments of the phone and his own brain bond together to become more than the sum of their individual parts allowing him all sorts of useful powers from having the entire world wide web inside his head to being able to zap people out of his way with electrical pulses. The science is just well enough expositioned to pass but as Tom points out, Spiderman didn't spend hours agonising over why or how his spider bite had such odd effects – he just got on with saving the world. And so does Tom...which is where the real story begins.

On waking up from a seventeen day coma complete with superpowers, Tom discovers that while he was getting hit on the head with a falling phone, Lucy was being brutally gang raped in the flat that it was thrown from. For me, this was when I realised that iBoy was going to have more depth than I had previously imagined. Tom is suddenly in a position where he can avenge his friend and soon finds himself walking that fine line between hero and out-of-control vigilante that is the crux of all superhero stories (apart from Superman, who is far too goody-two-shoes for my liking anyway). The Crow Lane estate is dominated by gangs, led by the shadowy figure of one Howard Ellman. Tom's alter-ego, iBoy, methodically works his way up the food chain, determined to reach the shady Hell Man – only half realising that he is risking losing sight of Tom Harvey all together, becoming only iBoy... part machine and therefore part inhuman. Tom's battle to keep sight of his humanity is as gripping as the mystery surrounding the perpetrators of Lucy's rape and had me read the entire book in almost one sitting. The issue of rape is incredibly sensitively handled. In one scene, Tom comes across a video of the assault taken by a mobile phone and his grief is palpable and distressing. Lucy is a particularly well-realised character and her composed and shut-in resignation when she tells Tom that she has been “ruined” is heartbreaking. Each chapter of the novel is headlined by a quote, including one from a British newspaper about gang rape – a blunt reminder that iBoy is not set in a fictional land, but in a very real London. The climax of the story line follows the classic rules of superhero storytelling and is all the better for it – sometimes a book works because you can see where its going, and iBoy is certainly falls into that category. There is a little twist towards the end that sent a genuine thrill of excitement and fear up my spine.

All in all iBoy is a more than welcome addition to the superhero cannon. There are definite parallels to Spiderman (which is knowingly referenced throughout) and a hint of Batman here or there but overall iBoy is something completely knew. The Crow Lane estate is a terrifying place - certainly an equal to Gotham or Metropolis in terms of fear, crime and inhumanity. We leave Tom perched overlooking Crow Town, nemesis missing presumed dead (and we all know what that means), contemplating his identity and his future because as a certain Stan Lee once said “with great power comes with great responsibility.” I hope we see more of him – I certainly felt that Kevin Brooks hadn't quite finished with him. However, if he has and this is the last we see of iBoy then it has been a pleasure to meet Tom Harvey – superhero for the iGeneration.


Great review with a lot of plot detail. I am thinking this would be a good one for boys to read :D
Lauren said…
This sounds really, really good. I've read a Kevin Brooks book before that I quite liked but wasn't nuts about, but I think I'd like this much more. Bizarrely, I'd been thinking this one had a 'fun' premise but I can see from your review it's so much more than that. Thanks for an intriguing review.
such a great review i have just ordered this book so i can not wait to recieve it and read it

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Once again you manage to review a book I would normally not pay squat attention to, in such a way that you are actually getting me to add this to my books to read list. How do you do that? *grins*

Jokes aside, I do think this sounds like a really great and thought-provoking read. Will let you know what I've thought of it once I buy and read this.
prophecygirl said…
Can I just say that I *love* Kevin Brooks, with some kind of weird blogger love. I really do. He's like the king of realism (Err.. usually. Honest).
Splendibird said…
Jenny - he totally still is the king of realism. Despite the half boy/half phone thing going on - it is still very close to the bone. Just with some added superhero-ness added to the mix.
I adore Kevin Brooks, having only ever read one of his books. I have two more of his waiting for me on my pile and I can't wait to get my hands on this one! YAY for superhero books :)
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