Bang picks up on a story we hear about far too often — a parent carelessly left their gun out in the open, their child picks it up, and tragedy ensues. Whenever these stories are posted on social media, responses usually range from advocating for tighter gun control regulations to arguing for more sympathy rather than censure for the family. Bang is about one such child, Sebastian Cody, who accidentally shot and killed his infant sister when he was four, and is still feeling the aftermath ten years later.
I’m familiar with Barry Lyga’s work because of his I Hunt Killers trilogy, and with such a potentially explosive premise and cover art, I was expecting a thriller somewhere along those lines. I expected Sebastian to be utterly haunted by his actions, and possibly face serial killer-ish urges deeply buried in his psyche.
Lyga subverted my expectations, in a way that forced me to confront my own biases about families who own guns. Rather than a dark psychological thriller, Bang is a surprisingly gentle and emotional tale of a young boy who grew up being blamed for something he had no control over. He lives everyday with the knowledge that his action led to the circumstances that caused his parents’ marriage to decline. He goes to school knowing that his classmates and teachers all know what he did to his sister, and even if they don’t outwardly blame him for it, he can still feel their judgement.
This in itself would make a powerful novel, but Lyga ups the ante by drawing a parallel between the censure Sebastian experiences to the discrimination Muslims in America face. The Fahim family moves into the neighbourhood, and their teenage daughter Aneesa quickly befriends Sebastian. She’s an awesome, kick-ass character and is a fantastic foil to Sebastian’s introspection, and her friendship gives Sebastian the opportunity to be with someone who knows nothing about his past. Aneesa also wears a hijab, and while she often faces Islamophobia with humour (e.g. she suggests titling a YouTube video “Muslim girl eats pizza” rather than “girl eats pizza” to increase the views), she is also candid about its more serious implications (e.g. hoping a bombing on the news was caused by a white person rather than a Muslim).
Bang is a quietly powerful book. There’s humour and lightheartedness to balance out the tragedy of its subject matter, making it an immensely readable book with an emotional punch.
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.