This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
I wanted to adore this book. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t adore it. I’m trying to work through why…
Some general comments and then spoilers will be flagged.
The premise is one of superheroes, where the heroes are adolescents and most of them don’t feel, or want to be, heroic. Their ‘powers’ aren’t obvious (no one is turning green) and sometimes they don’t seem particularly useful, either. At some point in the past they’ve discovered each other and tried to work together, to see whether and how they might become a team… but then it turned sour, and they haven’t really worked together for a year. But when one of them is caught up with the police (his own fault, really), he asks for help and things go from there. Up, and down, and twisty-windy. The plot revolves around accidentally stolen drug money, a bank robbery gone very wrong, people in the wrong place and a bunch of teenagers trying to fix things and occasionally messing up.
We get chapters from each of the Zeroes, although not always alternating; the story begins from the perspective of Ethan (Scam), then Kelsie gets the fourth chapter and then gradually the others are introduced. This structure is exactly as useful as it seems, with multiple perspectives on events and people and ideas. It was an aspect I really liked, but it also contributed to one of the reasons I didn’t adore the book (I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters; more on that below). The characters are nicely varied: girls and boys, different ethnic backgrounds, one blind, families of different structures (those that we see anyway). They definitely have different personalities, which are not entirely tied to their ‘powers’ – which is great. There is some connection (Kelsie can work a crowd and loves going out dancing, for instance), but the question of cause and consequence isn’t tied down.
I liked that the action takes place over just a week; there’s no interest here in dragging a story out. It’s fast-paced over all, as it needs to be when there’s scary underworld types involved and things need to get fixed pronto. There are a few adults around – more parents are mentioned and briefly involved than you might expect in a teens-save-the-world story – but they don’t get in the way of said teens getting into a lot of trouble. The story is set in Cambria, which it turns out is really a name for a town in the US; I don’t know whether it’s intended to be set in the real town or not, but at any rate it’s a dinky little town rather than NY or Chicago, say, which I think is an interesting choice. It lets the characters develop their powers before having to deal with The Big Smoke, I guess (bets on that happening in a later novel?). There’s little real world building – it’s the America of today, and the city itself plays little part in the story, so there’s no need to make it really come alive.
So the thing that has me keeping my distance somewhat from the book is my lack of connection to the characters. I’m willing to admit that this might be because I’m not a YA reader; I am old and cranky and maybe I just can’t connect to adolescent characters as strongly. But I didn’t like any of them very much. Ethan, the main point of view character really, is a bit creepy; his use of ‘the voice’ – despite it sometimes being involuntary – is unpleasant. The fact that ‘it’ knows things about other people (even if Ethan himself doesn’t always remember) is definitely creepy. Maybe that’s not his fault, and certainly as the story develops and people challenge him on its use and the pain that it caused the Zeroes ‘last summer’ is explored, Ethan grows some more responsibility. But when it’s partly inspired by lust for Kelsie, colour me dubious. Not entirely, no, and maybe sometimes that is an appropriate motivator, but… yeh. As for the others: I didn’t feel like I got enough of most of them to develop an emotional attachment. I appreciated most of them: Crash’s difficulties seem to me almost as difficult as Anon’s – while Thibault keeps getting forgotten, which yes is absolutely appalling and his family tale is genuinely tragic, and I look forward to seeing how that develops (and Ethan’s determination not to forget him is one of the true marks of his growing up), Crash has to work every single minute not to destroy internetted things. That effort, that restraint, is close to superhuman. Flicker I quite liked, but as a sighted person I’m not sure I can be making calls about how awesome it is for a blind person to be able to hijack others’s sight; at least the other person doesn’t know about it? … but that’s kinda creepy, actually. And Nate… ugh. As I read I kept imagining him growing up to be like Nathan Petrelli in Heroes. Which is not a good thing, in case you were wondering. His plans for manipulating the Zeroes, making them into some sort of team? CREEPY.
Hmm. That all makes it sound like I hated the whole book. Not true! I didn’t even hate the characters. I just… feel wary about them. And I don’t love them enough to be immediately forgiving.