David's bug-eyes, strange smell, hunched back, lack of chin and hearing aids don't endear him to most of the foster families he's stayed with, let alone most other 15-year-olds. No one knows, though, that his "defects" aren't all that's different about him. For one, his hearing aids aren't really hearing aids -- his ears are actually so sensitive that he wears them to block sound out. And second... well, just look at the cover art.
Now, though, he's been placed with the Trotwoods, an older couple known for taking in "any kid, no matter what his problems". Though it doesn't take long for the administration to ask David to leave the local high school (because his presence is too "disruptive") for the local alternative high school, the Trotwoods continue to give him their support and trust.
At Oak Leaf Alternative, David meets a girl called Cheetah. Their friendship gives him such new perspective about his physicality that when he is offered the chance to become just like everybody else, it isn't an easy decision. Because giving up his defects will also mean giving up his gifts.
I read Defect in one sitting. Not because I dig Will Weaver (which I do, though I haven't read nearly enough of him) and not because it's short (which it is -- just under 200 pages), but because it hooked me from page one. Cripes, just read the first paragraph:
The fight is going down tonight. By the time school lets out, word has spread. Even the Student Council types who have thrown the rare "Hey" David's way turn their backs on him.
After three sentences, I already had just as many questions: What is the fight about? Who with? Why are people turning their backs on David?
By the end of the first chapter, I was wholly invested in David as a character. Not only did I believe in him, but I cared about him. He's an angry person, but he's also bright and sensitive. He cares about what people think of him, but he also cares -- fiercely -- about other people. This bit summed him up for me:
As the elevator continues downward, no one says anything, but the silence is not uncomfortable. There is only the faint, faraway grinding sound of the elevator's cable and the slight rasp of breathing from Brandon and the thin man. David stares at the purple lesions on the man's neck, then turns to look into the dim, smoked glass. Crowded together, they are a family of strangers. All of them hanging by an iron thread. All of them in this together. All of them falling. By the time they reach the first-floor lobby, David feels the burn of tears in his eyes, feels some insane kind of joy.
I did feel that the other characters were less developed (but not hugely so -- they came through looking a bit faded next to David's Technicolor). While some of them fell into somewhat stereotypical categories (the Jock Bully, the Young Dying Kid with Attitude), it didn't make Kael any less threatening or Brandon any less likable. And, well, it's David's story. It's fair that he's the focus.
I can certainly imagine the subject matter pulling in David Almond's fans, but I also think the short chapters, gritty material (some swearing and Issues-with-a-capital-I -- oh, and some insect-eating), and, as I mentioned, a super hook of a first paragraph would make this a great reluctant reader pick. David does make his decision, but I never felt that Will Weaver was making a judgment about David's decision, or that he was suggesting that the reader should feel one way or the other. I find it impressive when an author can write about a Big Decision without sounding preachy whatsoever -- so, more Will Weaver for me, and soon.