Travel for me always means loading up several books to read along the way. This week, I traveled home to my parents for Thanksgiving, and my book loadout included Reflex, Impulse, and Exo by Stephen Gould. I’d read the first book in the series, Jumper, a while back. I really liked it, and wanted to read the later books, but found to my disappointment that my beloved public library didn’t have them. They sat on my (extensive) to-read list for a while, until finally I bought all three for this trip – and read all three in approximately three days.
I was surprised to find that although I liked all three, they felt like very different books to me, both from each other and from the first book. Jumper is a story about a scared, angry, messed-up kid trying to deal with abuse and loss – who just happens to be able to teleport. Davy’s ability does drive some of the plot of the book, but it’s clear he would still be the same troubled kid getting into trouble without it. He’d just be getting into different sorts of trouble without it. He’s a great character. Davy is obviously struggling to cope and figure out what sort of person he wants to be, let alone become that person. Sometimes he falls apart or lashes out, but in spite of that he also demonstrates clear strength of character. He’s thoughtful and generous, and he tries hard to be just. Jumper is a painful sort of coming of age story.
Reflex, on the other hand, is set over a decade later, after Davy has clearly dealt with the worst of his psychological problems and settled into himself. He’s gotten married and primarily uses his teleportation ability in secret for rescue and charity work. Unfortunately for his happily adjusted life, some unscrupulous people find out about what he can do and decide they’d like to make use of it, with or without his willing cooperation. The result is a much more thriller-like story of kidnapping, captivity, and resistance on his part. But the book also introduces the perspective of his wife, Millie, who learns to teleport herself and uses her new-found skill to track down and help rescue her husband. Reflex is thus much more oriented towards action and external conflict than Jumper. While there is of course still character development (I wouldn’t like it much if there weren’t), it’s less in center stage.
Impulse is once more set a significant period later, after Davy and Millie have had a daughter and she’s grown to teenager-dom herself. Her name is Cent (short for Millicent, like her mother), and Impulse is told primarily from her perspective. Because of the events of Reflex, she’s been largely raised in isolation, but she’s well-adjusted aside from that. In this book, she faces problems more typical to teenagers than those her father had to deal with – she’s attending school for the first time, with the accompanying concerns of fitting in, making friends, handling bullies, and coping with crushes. And unlike typical teenagers, learning to teleport, just like her parents. Unsurprisingly, this helps with some problems (handling bullies) and creates others (having to hide things from new friends). In all, Impulse feels more like a typical YA novel than either of the books before it.
Exo breaks the pattern of the previous books in being set almost immediately after Impulse. Accordingly, the two are closer in tone than any of the others. Cent seems to be pursuing her interests more directly, however. Instead of going to school, she’s going to space. I am learning to love what happens when science nerds get magical powers.* The bad guys from Reflex put in an appearance again, too. That’s actually something I like less about the book because we don’t really learn anything further about them. They just remain inexplicably sinister bogeymen. Still, Exo is full of smart people doing cool things, and I had fun with it.
I hope Gould will write another book in the series eventually. I’m curious to see the repercussions of events so far, and I’d like to know what’s up with the bogeymen. Plus, I’ve enjoyed the first four, and I’d be happy to read more.
* Okay, the teleportation is never presented as a magical power, but since it’s never explained, either, it might as well be.