I read this book in the early 90's and have long forgotten the name, even though I enjoyed it a lot. The main character is a boy genius who goes to an academy for child prodigies. It eventually transpires that the secret purpose of the academy is to weaponize the students' intelligence, or something nefarious like that.

Other plot points I happen to remember include:

  • Before going to the academy, the boy is picked on by his peers for reading Les Misérables in the original French.
  • Someone from the academy gives the boy an admissions test, and observes that he sometimes skims over a question, only to revisit it later and write the answer immediately. He explains to the boy's mother that his subconscious mind works on those questions while his conscious mind is focused on other things.
  • Towards the end of the novel, a girl who had been one of the boy's best friends has her mind transferred into a computer, and her body dies. She goes insane, or nearly so, but she manages to help the boy out from within the computer before some hardware failure kills her mind permanently. Actually, now that I think about it, the boy may have caused the failure at the girl's request to spare her a nightmarish existence.
  • Someone (perhaps a journalist?) who gets too close to the truth about the school has his car's electronics system hacked so that his car accelerates when he presses the brake. He dies in a crash.

Also, I think I first encountered the term Hobson's Choice in this book, although I don't know what it was in reference to. I often think of this book when I see that term. I guess that's pretty random!

Edit: On further reflection I think maybe the girl's brain was actually put into a vat of nutrients and connected to a computer, rather than having her mind downloaded as I described above. In any case, it was abundantly clear that there was no possible way for her to be saved.

1 Answer 1


The book is Shadows by John Saul.

The main character, Josh, starts early on by reading Les Mis (pg 19 of my edition), which gets snatched by a bully.

For the first time, he realized the book wasn’t in English. “Holy shit,” he cried. “The little creep’s reading some other language.”

“It’s French, all right?” Josh wailed. “It’s what the book was written in. So give it back, okay?” He reached for the book once more, but Ethan was too quick for him.

The main boy gets into this secret academy by answering more of the questions on the entrance exam than anyone else, despite thinking he failed by not completing even a quarter of it. He does this by solving difficult problems in the back of his mind while answering easy problems normally. The test was designed to be unfinishable.

Soon a rhythm developed and he was flying through the book, part of his mind processing the more difficult problems while the rest of his concentration focused on the questions that had no right answers, but were designed to build a profile of his talents and interests.

There is a brief mention of Hobson's choice:

Engersol offered her a reassuring smile. “The cat won’t be hurt, Amy. And since it’s being monitored by the computer, we should be able to find out a lot about the physical processes its brain goes through as it tries to come to a decision. It’s a Hobson’s choice experiment, in which any action results in a negative experience. Shall we begin?”

There's also deaths caused by tampering with the acceleration system of a car:

His right foot pressed down on the brake pedal, but instead of feeling the minute jerk as the cruise control disengaged and the engine, as well as the brakes, began to slow the car, he felt the engine fighting the brakes

However, the brakes don't cause the car to speed up. Rather, the engine continues to try and accelerate even with the brakes applied, and the brakes eventually fail. The victims are parents of one of the children that died at the school, not journalists.

We also find out that the killer was not one of the villains of the school, but one of the victim's sons. Said son was also one of the children to have his brain extracted and hooked up to the computer systems.

The story concludes with the discovery that the children that had been disappearing from the school were being experimented on and one had her brain extracted been successfully made to be to be a computer-connected consciousness. This girl was the protagonist's closest friend in the book, I believe.

However, the girl, Amy, is not completely dead, as you suppose. In the epilogue we find out that she replicated herself among computers around the world.

  • Thanks! Out of curiosity, do you know if all of my recollections are correct, or did I misremember anything?
    – Sean
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:16
  • I don't remember the Les Mis part, but I know the boy was teased. I don't remember how the reporter died, but that seems accurate. I'll see if I can find my copy, but it's probably packed away.
    – user31178
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:21
  • @Sean Found a copy so I'll check more details when I get a chance. Verified Les Mis, though, so see edit.
    – user31178
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 16:48
  • @Sean Alright, I found references for everything you asked about, since you were curious.
    – user31178
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 18:24
  • Wow, thanks for all of the extra research!
    – Sean
    Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 22:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.