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BOOK REVIEW: Bullet Catcher by Joaquin Lowe

| 30 March 2016 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Bullet Catcher by Joaquin Lowe

Hot Key Books
April 2016
Paperback, $16.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult



In the small town of Sand, populated by gunslingers and surrounded by endless desert, Imma washes dishes and grieves for a life she never had. She and her brother, Nikko, dreamed of escaping to become bullet catchers, a legendary band of outlaws who can deflect bullets with their hands. But they were wiped out years ago, Nikko with them. And leaving is impossible when walking into the desert means certain death.

They fill the horses’ feed buckets with sand. I’ve seen it before, in the worst of times, people filling their bellies and children’s bellies and their animals with sand, just to keep away the pangs of starvation. Of course, they all die anyway.

When she sees a stranger catch a man’s bullet and turn it back on him, Imma knows it can only mean one thing: the bullet catchers live on, and this is her way out.
Determined to follow him, Imma starts a journey that will take her to her physical extremes and force her to question just what family means and who she really is: bullet catcher or gunslinger; hero or monster.

I want to demand he train me, to make me a bullet catcher, like Nikko would have. I want him to tell me the secret to walking forever in the desert. I want to know how to catch bullets with my hands and toes and teeth. But the fire is so warm, and I’m afraid that if I say anything he’ll chase me away and make me sleep in the woods, with the coyotes and the wolves.


While the blurb of this book might hint at certain similarities to other young adult titles, this one differs from most in a few key areas:

  • The main character isn’t a special snowflake.

    She isn’t predestined. She stubborn to a fault, which is how she manages to get herself involved in these events. She bruises easily, she gets seriously injured, she ends up covered in scars. She isn’t one of those people who sees herself as plain while everyone else talks about how stunning she is. Actually, with the exception of looking similar to her brother who tread the same tracks before her, her looks don’t come into the story at all.

  • She’s not thrown into the situation.

    With the exception of the appearance of the bullet catcher in town, there isn’t a catalyst that makes Imma leave her horrible life. She might not realise until he shows up, but she’s been ready to leave suddenly for a while, she was just waiting for an opportunity. She makes the decision to take this chance.

  • There is NO ROMANCE.

    That’s right. No romance, no love triangle, no “girl has important job to do but throws it all in because of the love of her life she’s just met”, no “this being a teenager thing is just so hard, and why can’t we be together?!”


This book does draw certain similarities to the themes of Star Wars, though, within a western setting. The bullet catchers are just legends now, long believed extinct. So ingrained in legend are they that kids play Bullet Catchers and Gunslingers, rather than Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers.

Orphan girl, Imma, still believes they exist, and when a chance presents itself, she sets out to become one.

The majority of this story is spent with Imma learning how to be a bullet catcher and, when she finds herself in a dangerous situation, her choice between staying loyal to her bullet catcher mentor, or saving herself and turning gunslinger.

One is clearly good, and the other clearly bad, right? But which is which?

Perhaps everything isn’t as clear cut as it seems.

Were the bullet catchers the wicked ones, walking into towns and demanding things from people until they had nothing left, because they couldn’t refuse? You can’t exactly shoot a bullet catcher.

After this, even if I wanted to, could I ever again wash dishes without thinking about the men lying dead below? How I helped kill them? Who are we if we kill people who love their children and dogs? Who is good and who is bad, when they are the ones eager to help find lost children and we are the ones stalking in the shadows?

Or were the gunslingers the bad guys, shooting and taking what they wanted, causing a fuss, terrorising the townsfolk, and hunting down the bullet catchers so there was no-one left to stop them?

“All you saw was the removal of a dangerous sectarian,” Cloak says.
“Then you wouldn’t mind if I told anyone about it. It’s not like anyone would be missing someone like that?”
Cloak steps closer to me. “Is that a threat?”
I look straight into his eyes, refusing to so much as blink. “How could it be a threat if you haven’t done anything wrong?”
The look in Cloak’s eyes says he wants to strangle me.

In this brutal world, where the battle between gunslingers and bullet catchers left many an orphan, and where many still live and die by the bullet, children are more often “adopted” as cheap labourers than to loving families, no one is going to spare Imma just because she’s a teenager.

“This one’s ready for immediate adoption to a good home,” the Sister said. The fat man grabbed my hands and checked my fingers. Held me by the jaw and pulled down my lip and examined my teeth and the whites of my eyes like he was buying a farm animal.
“Too skinny,” he said. “She looks ready to keel over any minute.”
“You’d be getting her at a significant discount,” the Sister said. But the fat man just snorted and moved on down the line, examining the other orphans.

There are a few professional girls here, resting their heads in the crooks of their arms along the railing running around the second floor, where the rooms you can rent by the hour are. Smoke curls from the ends of their cigarettes. I’d rather be down here, in the danger of all these outlaws and guns, than up there. I’d rather wash dishes. I’d rather be dead.

In this world, where a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death, bullet catchers have to kill without pause, and gunslingers go to extremes to give themselves an advantage.

His trigger finger’s been amputated. In place of his finger a metal one has been implanted. The surgery is crude and grotesque. The metal digs into his hand, curling up the skin in bulbous pink and white scars where the bone and tendon have been removed. But the artificial finger seems to work like his others. When he balls his fist, flexing the muscles of his arm, the finger curls obediently.

“We’ve streamlined the whole thing. Two incisions: one along the back of the hand to allow for the amputation of the bone and musculature, and then another around the circumference of the finger at the knuckle. We’ve developed a special instrument that removes the whole finger in a single clip. We call it a gunslinger circumcision.” One of the gunslingers, still holding me in my chair, guffaws moronically.

The wrong decision could cost Imma her life, but hers isn’t the only one on the line, and the right path isn’t exactly forthcoming.

A thought crystalizes within me–something that started so many started so many months ago in The Bruise–that no one is every good or bad. That there is no such thing as true evil or righteousness.


The story is well told, with certain descriptions deliciously gory and brutal. The fact that this is more about a mentor/mentee relationship; putting the time in to really work up a skill; and the difference, or lack thereof, between good an evil all come together to give an enjoyable story that stands apart from so many on offer.

There were occasional discrepancies with the tense suddenly switching from the present tense that was there for most of the book, and the occasional past tense sections that threw out the flow a little. There also needs to be a certain level of suspension of disbelief when the character is being trained how to catch (and bullet catchers can redirect) a shot of lead traveling at incredible speeds, but once you get past that, it is a well put together story, and definitely something a little different from your run of the mill YA tiles.

“How can you be so calm? How can you tell me you’re going to shoot me as easily as saying you’re hungry?”




Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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