K.I.A. by Alexander Charalambides

Hildegard Pine holds her frosty breath on the edge of a snow-filled clearing, watching a couple of teen-aged fellow students being led away with bags over their heads, never to be seen again.That’s the grisly consequence of not making the grade at Truman Academy, the chill-inducing location for KIA by groundbreaking author Alexander Charalambides.

This first-rate YA thriller follows lead character Hildegard and her unlikely comrades — Grace and David — from their survival-of-the-fittest beginning at the isolated Alaskan military school to discovery of a startling secret about their own genetic pasts.

In the process, they must cope with grueling physical training and draconian interpersonal conditions that often pit them against both peers and sadistic instructors. It’s a fascinating read that moves fast and features acerbic, clever repartee among the intrepid trio as they struggle against both their hostile far-north environment and a harsh boot camp-like school setting.

Hildegard reluctantly assumes a leadership role as they fight to survive day to day and discover the true reason their parents have shipped them off to such a dreadful place. What common condition binds these extraordinary teens together, and what will they discover about their enigmatic shared beginnings and their tentative, danger-filled future?

Clever characterizations and outstanding writing  elevate this Young Adult novel far above other stories in its genre. Here’s a sample of the often lyrical turns-of-phrase found in the book:

“Light sweeps under the curtains. Through the building, I hear the vibrations of a heavy engine, coming slowly to a stop. There’s another beam of light, and then a third, rolling under the curtains, around my room, and then rumbling still.”

And, in a remarkable passage that sums up the sheer evil oozing from the chief bad guy:

“Up close, G is much worse. He smells like fresh mud, and his head looks like an egg, just fished from a sewer.”

The ending to this cautionary tale of fast friendships forged under less-than-favorable circumstances is especially satisfying. As they say: “Wait for it… Wait for it…” At well over three hundred pages, the book nevertheless holds a reader’s rapt attention from mysterious beginning to climactic finish.

KIA is a storytelling triumph by standout writer Charalambides. We’ll be on the lookout for more adventure-packed, character-driven work by this accomplished British author.

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