Book Review: “Cross Fire” by Fonda Lee (“Exo” #2)

In this sequel to Exo, hardened soldier Donovan Reyes tries to adjust back to his regimented military lifestyle after his run-in with insurgent group Sapience a few months ago. But his experiences are hard to forget – both those that made him question his unthinking loyalty to zhree rule and those with Anya, the rebel operative with which Donovan fell in love. Unfortunately, he won’t get much time to reflect. Not only is Sapience ramping up its terrorist activities, but zhree communications with the home planet have taken a dark turn. Though the zhree living on Earth have formed a close partnership with humans, ambassadors from their home planet see little value in maintaining the colony or protecting it from the dangerous invading race headed Earth’s way.

As much as I enjoyed Exo, it took me a little while to get into Cross Fire – but once I was there, I was totally hooked. I think the delay might be because author Fonda Lee spends the first few chapters of the book carefully aligning the dominoes of her narrative so that they fall just so once she’s ready to knock the first one over. And when the dominoes start to fall, Cross Fire, like Exo, is a knockout. As in the first book of the series, Lee’s recalibrating of traditional YA dystopian narratives continues to be a strength. The moral ambiguity and emotional complexity of the relationships between human and zhree in Donovan’s world allow a nuanced depiction of the fallout from colonization that complements the novel’s action-packed pace. (And while I may be showing my inner geek by nerding out about “nuanced depictions of colonization,” don’t let that fool you – there are a lot of awesome battle scenes and cool tech in Cross Fire, too.)

I also appreciated that, like The Hunger GamesCross Fire doesn’t shy away from the realities of war. They may just be teenagers, but Donovan and his comrades are also real soldiers – and this isn’t one of those books in which every young soldier miraculously emerges from combat unscathed. Plus, I’m a firm believer that any book with cool battles and neat weapons also has a responsibility to show the human cost of those battles and weapons; Cross Fire does that.

Just about the only thing in Cross Fire that left me feeling “meh” was Donovan’s romance with Anya. Their alliance is vital for the progression of the plot, but their scenes together always fall a little flat for me. To be honest, Donovan has bucketloads more chemistry with his (male) SeaPac partner, Jet, than he does with Anya… but while I would be very down for the series to take that turn in the next book, I’m not holding my breath. Then again, Lee has surprised me before – so you never know! One thing is for sure: Whatever happens next, I will definitely be reading.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Scholastic, for review.