Before you say it, I know: I am not in the target demographic for this book, or any of Elise Stokes’ Cassidy Jones adventures. Still, I enjoy reading them — despite the strange looks I get from others on the bus when I’m reading the latest installment in paper form.
Elise Stokes hit it big with her first novel, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula. After being reviewed by a 13-year-old reader, it was picked up by a middle-grade school as assigned reading. Then it won some awards and Elise Stokes became a prominent author of middle-grade or “young adult” fiction.
She followed up her first book in a year with Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, but there was a longer delay for the third book. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why.
As most of the English reading world knows — at least, most of the “YA” market — Cassidy Jones is a normal teenage girl from Seattle. She’s awkward, lacks confidence and isn’t particularly athletic. Then, in true superhero fashion, she’s accidentally dosed with top-secret “Formula 10X,” being developed in her neighbour’s basement lab, which gives her super-strength, speed, the ability to heal quickly and enhanced senses. With the help of her neighbour’s son, Emery, another 14-year-old whose genius IQ has earned him university degrees already, Cassidy foils nefarious plots, rescues her kidnapped father and fights escaped tigers.
In this installment, the bad guys from the first novel return, searching for Formula 10X — which was destroyed in a fire after Cassidy’s accident. It turns out that the specifications were hidden in 10 separate microchips, scattered around the world. The baddies have recovered nine of them (using murder at least once); the last piece is hidden in an ancient Egyptian headdress on display in a museum in Seattle. Emery, Cassidy’s genius sidekick, learns of a plot to steal the chip, so Cassidy dresses as a mummy to spook the bad guys. This has some funny consequences, such as new rumours about a resurrected mummy running around the streets of Seattle.
But when one of the thieves turns out to be Emery’s father, the mysterious Gavin Phillips, the plot twists — and so do Cassidy’s emotions.
The third book is a little darker and more serious than the first two. Cassidy is growing up and dealing with a new level of emotions when it comes to boys. Boys are starting to pay attention to her, as well, in ways that are new to her.
And there’s a love triangle slowly emerging. I think that Stokes portrayed her character’s reaction to that skillfully and believably: it’s plain to Cassidy, but she deliberately chooses not to think about it. I can believe that in a 15-year-old who’s trying to deal with some pretty extraordinary events in her life.
Stokes also spends more space in this novel describing the stress her character has to deal with from having a secret identity—a second life that she has to hide from her own family.
And as with Stokes’ first two novels, the third shows top-notch writing style, editing and production — and a gorgeous cover designed by David C. Cassidy. A fellow member of Independent Authors International, Stokes is living proof that independent writers produce work that meets and exceeds professional standards.
There is not as much action in this book as in the first two. Cassidy seems to spend more time stressing over her relationships with her friends, rivals, unwanted suitors and her family than she does fighting bad guys. To me, this made for a more interesting story, but I wonder how Cassidy fans feel?
The other slight weakness I found in this story is that you really have to have read at least the first novel to follow this one. The bad guys from both previous novels combine forces in this one. The text also refers to characters and events from the other novels. I kept having to try to recall the previous books to understand some of the plot points in the third (it’s been over a year since I read them, after all, and I’m not getting younger, either).
But those are minor nits to pick out. This is another excellent novel by one of the best writers in the MG/YA field today. There’s lots of room left in the story-arc, too, so we can all look forward to Cassidy Jones and the Luminous soon.