Billed as Room meets Lord of the Flies, Brooks' The Bunker Diary is the seemingly straightforward tale of Linus, a teenage runaway fooled in to the back of a van, subsequently chloroformed and imprisoned in a nuclear bunker. Initially alone, he's soon joined by several others, ranging from a nine year old girl to an overweight businessman, also kidnapped against their will. Forced to coexist in order to survive, the group finds themselves at the mercy of some particularly nasty mind games, and tensions soon begin to pull them apart. Do they have any hope of escape?
Ever since bursting on to the scene with Martyn Pig, Brooks has claimed his rightful place as the King of Grit in the YA world, and The Bunker Diary is, without doubt, his most shattering and harrowing tale yet. Renowned for putting ordinary people in extremely brutal situations, Brooks is not the author to read if you're looking for light hearted escapism, and he'll be the last to apologise for that.
As with all of his protagonists, Linus is a well drawn, well rounded character who is ostensibly sympathetic but possesses enough flaws - gradually revealed as the tale unravels - to make him a suitable hero for a novel where very little is black and white. But the other characters of this claustrophobic thriller all get the right amount of screen time to ensure they come across with the right amount of depth and complexity too. The concept may be somewhat derivative, but Brooks' unflinching, warts-and-all focus on the psychological relationships, through the wary eyes of Linus, make this a compelling tale in its own right.
On the surface, The Bunker Diary may seem like a nasty, unpleasant little tale, particularly if you are of a queasy disposition. This is certainly not a suitable read for younger teens, but then as a writer who deals with edgy, challenging and hard hitting themes, Brooks never was. However, scratch the surface, deal with the fact that bad things happen to good people, and put any notions of Hollywood happy endings aside, and you will be rewarded with a tense, gripping and thought provoking read. For it is the philosophical aspects that Brooks explores, challenging us to reassess our beliefs through his dark plots, which make him one of the best YA writers around today for me.