Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Midnighters Vol. 1: The Secret Hour (book) by Scott Westerfeld

Jessica Day's mother has gotten a new job in Bixby, OK and Jessica is less than happy about being the new kid in a tiny town with a tiny high school. She thinks the water in Bixby tastes funny (it turns out that this is an important detail, and not just the whiny complaining I first thought it was), some weird kids (and one cute guy) have taken an interest in her for some reason, and she starts having odd dreams that may actually be real.

Rex, Dess, Melissa, and Jonathan are the weird kids (and cute guy) I mentioned. They each have a sort of double life in Bixby. For 24 hours out of every day, they're ordinary kids, for the most part. They tend to be sensitive to light. In addition, Rex is incredibly serious and gets picked on a lot, Dess is an extreme math whiz, Jonathan is thin despite eating enough to feed two or three people, and Melissa can't bear for others to touch her. What they know that no one else does, however, is that there is a 25th hour in the day, squished into the exact instant of midnight. Normal people never even know that the 25th hour (aka the blue time, so called because the world turns bluish) exists, but the Midnighters experience it every night. Although there are dangers in the 25th hour, most of the Midnighters don't have any problems - Jessica, a new and strange Midnighter, is an enormous exception.

All the Midnighters have special abilities that they can only use to their fullest extent during the blue time. Rex is a seer - one thing he can do is recognize other Midnighters outside of the blue time. Dex is a polymath - her abilities are tied to mathematics, so she is exceptionally good at making blue time weaponry (in the blue time, most weaponry involves the use of 13-letter words). Melissa is a mindcaster, someone who can hear and influence the thoughts of others. Jonathan is an acrobat - you'll have to read the book to find out the specifics of his ability. Only Jessica's ability is unknown. She's unlike anyone the Midnighters have ever met. Although she can experience the blue time, she's not comfortable in it, and she seems to be far more defenseless than everyone else. However, the blue time is crawling with slithers and darklings, ancient and terrifying beings that seem determined to kill Jessica. Jessica has to figure out what her ability is and learn to defend herself before even the other Midnighters are no longer able to protect her.

In an earlier post about one of Westerfeld's books, I wrote that I'd like to eventually read all of his books - I'm going to try my best, because I have yet to read something of his that I haven't liked. I think this is his first young adult novel - prior to this, he wrote five adult science fiction novels.

Just like in his Uglies books, Westerfeld plays around with ideas that are probably appealing to a lot of teens (and adults, too!). Those who are outsiders, or who feel like they're outsiders, will likely enjoy reading about a bunch of outsiders who share a slice of time that's all their own. The special powers are pretty cool, too, and Westerfeld leaves that aspect of the book wide open for future books - there is no list of the kinds of powers that a Midnighter might have, which means that there are basically no limitations. Who knows what a new Midnighter in a future book might be able to do? My favorite ability out of the ones Westerfeld has written about so far is probably Jonathan's, although Dex's love of math is so deep and powerful that it makes her ability seem pretty appealing, as well.

While I enjoyed this book and have already gotten the second through interlibrary loan, I prefer the other books by Westerfeld that I've read. One, the perspective shifts in this book were kind of weird. My summary may have made it seem like Jessica is the main character, but she's really only one lens through which the events of this book are viewed. At one point or another, Westerfeld writes from the perspectives of each of the Midnighters - it took me some time to adjust to this. Two, this book doesn't feel quite as focused as the other books by Westerfeld that I have read. Peeps had a bit of a biological/ecological focus. The Uglies books dealt with the pursuit of physical perfection as well as, once again, biology/ecology. If this first Midnighters book had any particular topical focus, I didn't really notice it, although there's a possibility that something will come up when/if Westerfeld further explores the relationship between humankind and the darklings and slithers.

All the books on this read-alikes list are intended for young adults, but some might be better for certain age groups than others. For instance, I wouldn't recommend Meyer's Twilight books for younger teens, while Duane's So You Want to Be a Wizard, a more challenging read than Twilight, has content that many would consider appropriate for children as young as 10 years.

Read-alikes:
  • Twilight (book) by Stephenie Meyer - Bella doesn't expect her move to the small town of Forks to be at all exciting, until she meets Edward Cullen. At first, Edward seems repulsed by her, but eventually the two of them can't seem to stay away from each other. The more time Bella spends with him, however, the more odd things she notices about him, leading her to the impossible conclusion that this boy she is so drawn to is actually a vampire. Those who'd like another story with a new girl in a small town who learns about and gets involved with an incredible secret might enjoy this book.
  • The Summoning (book) by Kelley Armstrong - After Chloe Saunders suddenly starts seeing ghosts, her father and her aunt have her admitted to Lyle House, a home for troubled teens. All Chloe wants is to convince the adults at Lyle House that she's better and can leave, but it's not long before she starts noticing that there may be something sinister going on. A couple of the other teens at Lyle House are convinced that Chloe really can see ghosts and is, in fact, a necromancer - they may know what they're talking about, since one of them can do magic. Those who'd like another story about a girl whose world is turned upside down when she develops new abilities might enjoy this book.
  • The Initiation (book) by L. J. Smith - This is the first book in Smith's Secret Circle series, although it is no longer available on its own - the link will take you to the Amazon.com page for a volume combining the first book and half the second book (what were they thinking?!). Cassie isn't thrilled to move from sunny California to gloomy New England, but it isn't long before things get interesting for her. Her new school is practically ruled by a group of gorgeous teens who appear to be feared and/or respected by everyone around them. Cassie gradually discovers that, not only do these teens have special powers, so does she. As she gets involved with the group, she begins to fall for the boyfriend of one of the girls. Those who'd like another story in which a newcomer discovers that she's part of a group that has amazing powers might want to try this book.
  • Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace (book) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi - This is the first book in the Jennifer Scales series. Jennifer Scales has no reason to believe she isn't an ordinary girl in an ordinary family - until she suddenly develops the ability to shapeshift into a dragon, and her parents admit that she's half-dragon, half-Beaststalker. As if her life wasn't complicated enough, Jennifer has to figure out how to protect herself and her family from beings who view her as their natural enemy. Those who'd like another story in which a teen discovers she has special powers might enjoy this book/series.
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard (book) by Diane Duane - In an attempt to escape some bullies, Nita Callahan hides in a library, where she finds a book intriguingly titled So You Want to Be a Wizard. With the help of the book, she embarks on the path to becoming a wizard and soon meets Kit, another new wizard. The two have to learn quickly and make friends when they can, if they want to be able to survive the Lone Power, an evil being whose home is an alternate Manhattan. Those who'd like another story involving special powers and a dangerous alternate/parallel world might enjoy this book.

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