Alex Sawyer is a 14-year-old who I would probably loathe if we ever went to the same school at first. Because he's a liar, a thug and a thief. However, through first person we see how his mind works. He knows he's greedy and he knows he hurts people but feels crime is easier if you don't think about it. Then one day he and his friend Toby pick the wrong house to rob. Men who are super fast and wearing gas masks come out of nowhere in the dark, shoot Toby in frigid blood, and Alex is pinned for the murder. He's still a teenager, so he'd get a sentence of 10 or 15 years, right? Wrong. There was a Summer of Slaughter a few years back where teenagers turned to crime like teens switching from Game Boy Advance to Nintendo DS, and now there's no tolerance anymore. Alex isn't even given a fair trial, and is sentenced to life in the worst hellhole on Earth: Furnace Penitentiary. It's a prison about a mile beneath the ground that you never leave, unless you decide to go up a few flights of stairs and jump off the railing to your death. And no one has ever escaped before, but Alex feels if he succumbs to a life behind bars, he's practically dead. He believes there's no such thing as a prison with no way out. All he and his friends have to do is find one. Before the things that go bump in the night come on their radar.
There aren't many books that make me visualize the scenery and the atmosphere perfectly but pretty much every description Alexander Gordon Smith writes is right on the money, or right in the blood. He describes the prison with some actually disgusting metaphors that are hard to expel from your mind. And also, many YA books, actually, almost every YA series involves characters at one time or another put behind bars, but pretty much none of them showcase the feel of being in prison as perfectly as this. Alex describes his mind rotting, forgetting colours, books he's read, and his brain in full panic the day he realizes he might spend the rest of his life in a tiny, bloody, stinking cell. But he has one, actually two good things to keep him sane: His cellmate, Donovan, who accepted that he's going to die in Furnace long ago but still doesn't mind being a little friendly, and his friend Zee who came down the same day with him. You know, when I first wrote The Blacktop Brothers, I admit, I didn't give my antagonists enough personality to make them very different apart from their appearances, but I did that because I was too impatient, and just wanted to do a story about a girl standing up to four bullies bigger and more muscular. Escape from Furnace does have characters like that, but that's normal. I mean, it's a prison story. But my point is, the main characters and even some of the minor characters each have a personality that justifies them saying certain things certain ways.
And if all that wasn't good enough, this book has an excitement value with the help of four main things: Smith makes Furnace Penitentiary a prison that really feels like there's no way out, Alex, Donovan and Zee become characters you care about so much that it makes you all the more scared for them, the book's length allows there to be enough excitement while having room to make the last two things possible, and the fact the action scenes have a claustrophobia to them that might make you feel like you yourself have to run to your cell before the bars close at lockdown.
But I think my favourite thing about this book is Alex and Donovan. They develop a friendship so pure yet so flawed, saying they are unforgettable is an understatement. They are the perfect definition of an interracial gay couple who care about each other more than they care to admit in public and they change one another. Donovan gives Alex help and he gives him hope.
Escape from Furnace is one of my favourite series of all time, and I know I said in my first review back in 2014 that this book wasn't perfect, but I take it back now. Lockdown is pretty much a perfect book!