Monday, December 12, 2011

The perfect novel for a high-school student

Indie author book review: Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula
This is the perfect novel for a girl or boy.

While she starts on some well-travelled roads — a teenage protagonist who gains super-powers from an accident in a lab — author Elise Stokes actually shows more skill in weaving that plot point into the plot of this book. She knows what it means to be a writer, and demonstrates this with a clear, fast-paced writing style that keeps readers focused on the story, not on her ability to write.

Synopsis: Cassidy Jones is a 9th-grade teenager who is very self-conscious about her lack of athletic ability, among other self-perceived faults. She’s envious of the popular girl in school, Robyn, who is not only athletic and pretty, but seems able to do anything she wants. The first chapter of the story really brings to life the angst and self-doubt of the teen years. Later, Cassidy accompanies her father, a local newsman, on a story as part of an enforced learning experience. Again, Stokes vividly captures the emotions of a teen riding in the backseat as her parent tries to show her a small part of the adult life.

The assignment is to interview a world-leading genetic researcher. In the lab, Cassidy suffers an accident that involves some of the chemical the scientist is studying, and à la Spider-Man, gains super powers.

When that same scientist is kidnapped, her son, Emery — coincidentally, the same age as Cassidy —moves into the Jones’s because he has no one to look after him. This is the one big coincidence of the story, and as I’ve said before, every novel needs one but can tolerate no more.

Cassidy gradually discovers her new super strength and super speed, and teams up with Emery to find his mother and the kidnappers.

So far, pretty standard middle-grade stuff, right? But Stokes reaches a higher level by describing her characters’ reactions and emotions with skill, humour and absolute dead-on believability.

Why is this a perfect book for teens?

Because it depicts a girl and her family so well. The Joneses are not ordinary. Dad’s a local celebrity and Mom stays at home. A smaller and smaller minority of North American families can afford that lifestyle. But the situation is handled well. It makes sense, because Dad is successful in what he does.

The kids are also believable, with the behaviours and flaws that we see around us and within us all the time.

And the plot is not predictable. I’ve read far too many books and seen way too many movies where I can predict the next scene and the next plot development, because it’s been done before many, many times. While Stokes may have borrowed a page from Spider-Man to begin her story, her plot is original. There is a twist at the end that I did not see coming, and there were several points where my predictions about whodunit were proved wrong.

My only complaint is that the end of the plot was wrapped up a little too quickly. The emotional arc of the story was fully developed, but the logical plot was rushed. It would have been nice to read about Cassidy discovering the final details and her reaction to them. This was the one part of the book where I found myself saying (quietly) “show, don’t tell.” It felt as if the author were rushing to finish the book.

Cassidy Jones was clearly written as a character with a series of adventures ahead of her, and even though I’m very far from being an adolescent American girl, I’m looking forward to the next installment.

It’s not every day that you find a really good read, after all.

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