Book Review: Unstoppable Moses by Tyler James Smith

a hand holding up a copy of Unstoppable Moses by Tyler James Smith against a background of tie-dye skirt and garden foliage.
The cover of Unstoppable Moses is black with green stars, planets, a lightning bolt, a silhouette of a head, and a pine tree.
Text on the cover of the novel reads “Unstoppable Moses A Novel Tyler James Smith”

Is there any better way to kick off book reviews on this blog than by reviewing a debut novel by an up-and-coming author? Perhaps reviewing a debut novel by an up-and-coming author that I’ve known since I was a small child?

I’m writing this review from a completely unbiased perspective, so I’ll get this little bit out of the way right now: Tyler James Smith, author of Unstoppable Moses, was a childhood friend of my brother, and the brother of my brother’s childhood friend. That is to say, he spent a lot of time at my house. I played with him and my older brother as a young child, and I suppose with age their friendship faded as most of them naturally do.

That being said, when I heard from his (very cool and kind) older brother that he had written a book, I was excited. And when I found out that the novel he wrote was actually a contemporary Young Adult (YA) novel, which is my favorite age group/genre, I was thrilled. I knew I needed this book.

Now that we’ve got the excitement and bias out of the way, onto reviewing the actual content of the novel.

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an image of the first chapter of the book and opening line

To directly quote my Goodreads review (which I spouted off-the-cuff approximately nine minutes after closing the book):

Honestly, whole-heartedly, and emphatically: one of the best novels I have ever read. Very reminiscent of John Green, both in voice and content (particularly in the scenes involving walking in the cold, where I was reminded of John Green’s third of Let It Snow). The action continues to propel you forward- the reader is always waiting for what comes next- until the very end. I have never read something that so earnestly grapples with trauma and the ways in which it can manifest. This book obliterated me in the best possible way. I would give it ten stars if I could.

I’m more than willing to bet that anyone reading this would like me to expand, so here goes.

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the book open to Chapter thirty-one with an oreja from Granos Bakey on a napkin on one page of the book and a branch of flowers in the binding

Tyler James Smith has a voice that is so charming and witty that you feel like you’re reading the words of an actual teenager who is actually experiencing these things- and I think that’s exactly how YA should be. You should feel that the narrator is really a teenager, tackling everything life throws at them with humor and emotional depth (and confusion). Smith’s voice is just that.

When I say that his writing is like John Green, please note that this is one of the highest complements I could give, because I’m a John Green fanatic.

As far as content similarities between John Green’s work and Unstoppable Moses, they are numerous.

First, a lot of the book involves traveling around in the cold. A lot of those walking-around-in-the-cold scenes involve the comical and sometimes distressing experiences of four teenagers, which is not unlike the chaos of John Green’s part of Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances, wherein three teenagers trek through the snow in search of a Waffle House.

Second, the title character finds himself searching for someone, which prompted me to draw parallels between Unstoppable Moses and Paper Towns.

In some ways, I can see also similarities between Unstoppable Moses and Looking For Alaska. Moses is dealing with a lot of guilt in the wake of a tragedy, just as Miles is dealing with a lot of guilt in the wake of a tragedy.

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a close-up of the aforementioned oreja

This book is thrilling. It may not be a thriller (though I think someone with more knowledge of the genre could probably make an argument that it fits) but it is packed with excitement that keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to read faster and faster, and flipping pages. It took me two days to read and I spent approximately seven hours total. Sometimes I actually had to pause and go back because I was reading so fast to get to the next bit of information, I was skipping details.

From the moment you hear about Moses’ near death experience as a child, you’re ready to see what comes next. The book is a relentless series of captivating events that ensnare the reader.

When I started reading, I could not have been more taken by the premise and the opening chapter. Unstoppable Moses is the story of Moses Hill, who pulled an innocent prank with his cousin and best friend, Charlie Baltimore… which went horribly awry and landed Moses in court-ordered community service as a camp counselor.

Moses is a loveable, relatable, and understandable character. He’s experienced more than his fair share of trauma and the chapters jump backward and forward in time, recalling memories as well as living in the present in a way that feels eerily familiar.

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a hand holding the book open to Chapter forty-one against a background of sunflowers and foliage

When I messaged the author’s brother to rave about this book, he said I was the kind of reader that authors want, because I get immersed in every book I read. But this book is different. This book grabs you by the shirt collar and pulls you in. You don’t stand a chance.

But that’s not even the best part.

What I love most about this book is how flawlessly the depictions of trauma are written.

Unstoppable Moses is not just the story of everything Moses experiences in his time at camp Jaye’k (and the two substantial events that preceded it), it’s the story of Moses’ emotional journey from Super Boy… to unprocessed traumatized teenager… to more processed, more traumatized teenager.

In true YA-coming-of-age fashion, Moses learns about expressing his feelings and how to cope with the agony of being a human who has experienced bad things (or maybe just the agony of being a human).

Without giving away too many details, I can’t really explain what I mean about the trauma and how Moses grows as a person, so you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s phenomenal. It’s realistic. It’s poignant. It’s hopeful.

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the book open to Chapter fifty-one against background of a decorate planter (featuring cut grass stuck to the planter)

When we read books, they change us. They help us put things in perspective and they give us the tools to process our own experiences. I read this as an adult and it gave me new insights on myself but also the other people in my life. If Unstoppable Moses gave me new insights on myself and the others around me, imagine the profound impact it will have on teenagers.

Suffice it to say I recommend that everyone read this book.

If you enjoy:

  • YA novels
  • Coming of Age novels
  • Contemporary fiction
  • John Green

You will enjoy Unstoppable Moses.

Unstoppable Moses on a rock beside pink mums

P.S. I downplayed this review a lot because I didn’t want to sound like a fangirling nutjob.

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