The Twelve-Fingered Boy is John Hornor Jacobs's debut young adult novel and it's amazing. It's a horror novel about Shreve, a kid from a tough background who is stuck in juvie and makes the most of it by running a black-market candy dealership; and his new roommate Jack, a quiet kid with twelve fingers and twelve toes. Jack is not the kind of kid who thrives in juvie, and Shreve takes him under his wing, trying to teach him how to get along on the inside -- but he's not very successful. Jack's extra fingers mark him out among the kids, and the worst of them smell blood when they see him and begin to circle.
But that's the least of Jack's problems. Far more worrisome is Mr Quincrux, a strange man from an unnamed government agency who seems to have the power to make the omnisuspicious guards and wardens go into a trancelike state. He's very, very interested in Jack, and particularly in how Jack landed in juvie -- an unexplained attack on his foster siblings that we quickly learn had something to do with telekinesis. Shreve quickly discovers that Mr Quincrux is an emissary for something much darker than any mere government agency, and as things escalate and Jack's powers come to the fore, it quickly becomes necessary for the pair to break out and hit the road.
Great horror novels demand likable characters -- people whose danger we can't help buy empathize with -- and Twelve-Fingered Boy has a pair of two of the most likable characters I can remember meeting. Shreve is fast-talking, tough-as-nails, thoughtful and honorable; Jack is quiet, gentle, scarred but indomitable. Their adventures hopping trains and sneaking across the country to unravel the mysteries of the plot are part Huck Finn, part X-Men. The scary stuff in this book -- and there's some really scary stuff here -- goes beyond the usual scares of kids' horror, and is truly the stuff of nightmares. This is a book that mesmerizes like a venomous snake, and while it comes to something of a conclusion at the end of 264 too-short pages, I was delighted to learn that it is only book one of a trilogy. I'll be on the watch for the next two volumes.