“From its opening line, Johnny Came Home draws you into the world of its reluctant, damaged, and super-charged hero. And what a fast paced, dark, and intriguing world it is!
Author Tony Breeden lays a firm foundation for what I hope will be a series of novels centering around John Lazarus, a young man assumed dead in a tragic, but suspicious, house fire years earlier. Clearly against his better judgment, but driven by circumstances and a sense of duty he doesn’t quite understand himself, John returns to the town of Midwich with his long-haired, rocker wannabe friend, Weasel Hopkins. Weasel doesn’t know anything about Midwich or the powerful and omnipresent Titan Biotech, whose headquarters
overlook the supposedly peaceful town. In fact, he really doesn’t know that much about his friend, Johnny, either. And neither do we–at first.
The fun begins as Weasel wakes up in the battered K-car (K-car…I love it!) they had traveled in and begins to press Johnny for answers as to why his friend would drag him to Midwich, of all places. When Johnny reveals just a small sample of his super-human abilities, his friend is hooked, and so are we.
What follows is an exciting adventure that I would describe as X-men meets James Bond with just a touch, believe it or not, of To Kill a Mockingbird thrown in. Breeden skillfully weaves a story that, while leaving you breathless with ever-escalating action still takes the time to develop a rather large cast of characters–each one touched in some way by Titan’s invasive and deliciously morally-ambiguous meddling in their lives. As is real life, each character responds to their past and their circumstances in different ways, some choosing
the path of righteousness, while others opt for the more seductive path of power and promised riches. And some, like one of my favorite characters, Football Coach and more (No Spoilers!) Mike Trager, take a path that is decidedly more vague. They often skirt the line, as so many of us do, between what they know is right, and what they are obligated to do by duty, loyalty, or career. These characters press on, influenced by their past and driven by their present, ever evolving as truth is slowly revealed.
Of these evolving characters, none is more fascinating than the lead, John Lazarus himself. Dark, brooding, but with a high sense of loyalty and justice, Johnny’s journey is one of self-discovery. Breeden allows the revelations of Johnny’s past, and hopefully his coming to terms with them, to arrive at a similar pace to his discoveries of more and more of his preternatural abilities. What results is a reluctant, sometimes angry, but maturing hero that you simply have to cheer for.
It is these supernatural abilities, and their inclusion in a Faith-based Sci-Fi novel that create what I thought were some the more interesting theological questions in the book. Are super-human abilities, or the possibility of their existence, compatible with Biblical theology? If those abilities are boosted through human intervention, what is our response as people of God? Breeden does not shy away from these questions. Instead, he weaves both the questions and possible responses throughout the narrative as part of the story and the characters’ reactions, rather than hammering out obvious opinions through exposition.
Breeden also does not shy away from issues of race and prejudice in his book. Again, without heavy-handedness, he explores these issues through his characters. Johnny is a young, black man, adopted by white parents. He wonders if some of the hatred and opposition he has experienced is due to bigotry and ignorance, yet he never uses those questions as a crutch or a reason to shirk his responsibilities. Other characters must also come face to face with preconceived social notions and decide how they will respond. In fact, the entire question of the “indigos” (read the book…no spoilers.) is a parallel to so many issues and opinions we still must process in our world today.
On the subject of parallels. In my opinion, there is one, small item that could improve the story even more in future installments. Occasionally, one of the characters in Johnny Came Home would be compared to a fictional character in our actual universe, in order to illustrate a particular trait or a desire to emulate that character . While only happening a few times, I did find it a little jarring, taking me out of Breeden’s universe for a moment and back into our own. My point is this: the characters in Johnny Came Home are rich and diverse enough to stand on their own. They need no comparison!
Finally, I’d like to close this (long) review with my favorite part of the book. I am simply a sucker for a satisfying ending and tantalizing epilogue. I long for a “Life goes on,” feeling about the characters after I am done reading. I’m going to break my own rule from the previous paragraph. Think of “The Incredibles.” (Best. Pixar. EVER.) The story ends. The good guys win. But suddenly, the family is about to fight The Underminer. You know that their adventures are going to continue. You don’t have to see it happen. You can leave them there, knowing that “Life goes on.” That being said, I loved the ending of this book! Seriously, I could hear the theme music playing in my head. It is a satisfying, complete story in itself that still leaves just enough unanswered questions, just enough teasers thrown in to leave me looking forward, with great anticipation, to the next installment, John Lazarus: Man from Midwich!”
Now what are you waiting for? Go buy Johnny Came Home today!