I found this book considerably weaker than the previous two. Judging by the difference in the stars, I’m unusual in my opinion.
What I liked about the first two books: Davy and Millie learn to use and control amazing powers while running from evil organizations of considerable resources who will stop at nothing to capture and control them. There’s also the element of doing good and saving people.
You’ll understand this better if you take into account that this is, at its heart, a superhero book. Cent, like her parents has magic powers (teleportation, plus a little extra), is super-smart, and cares deeply about doing good, whether it’s delivering lentils to flood-displaced Bangladeshis or rescuing bullied freshmen from the mean girl. At times, they’re so liberal-international it kind of made me roll my eyes. Worst example? Cent brags about her “mad make-up skills” (which is a bit like having “awesome oral hygeine skills”) and yet she decides to cover up her black eyes by putting on pancake whtie make-up, dressing up like a geisha, and clopping to her family dinner on tiny wooden shoes in a kimono. That was weird, just weird, and would be even in my family (and we’re odd) and seemed put in there just to show off how sophisticated Cent is that she A. knows about Japan, B. knows some Japanese and C. can put on a kimono by herself (hint: you can’t. Your obachan in the old country can just manage it, but you can’t.) I found it a little tiresome, like he was just showing off.
Davy and Millie are presented as near-perfect paragons. They are the sort of parents who are lauded, but whose style I personally don’t like. They are hyper-controlling and protective (albiet, with good reason) who drive Cent to extremes when it comes to her book-learning, and yet also vehemently protect her innocence. Her only contact with strangers has been in countries where she generally didn’t speak the language, and if she did she was discouraged from making a real connection, for example, helping her parents with their relief efforts. So she’s been presented as a brilliant and book-smart homeschooled shut-in who craves human contact.
Cent learns to jump, and uses this new-found ability as leverage to convince her parents to let her go to school. There’s a lot of fun wish-fulfilliment in thsi, because her parents are rich and brilliant superheroes, effectively, and can solve all kind of problems that a teen reader might sigh wistfully over, like how do you get to school when the weather is bad, and how do you get the cool new snowboard so you can do really well on the team and people will like you.
The middle part, which dealt with Cent’s adaptation to school, kind of dragged on. Cent has the usual issues, but Gould has a slightly askew vision of what bullies act like. His bully is a pretty girl named Caffeine, who goes after Cent with no reason or motivation, a brainless vessel of hate like the snow golem in Frozen. This part didn’t jive at all with my experiences of being a middle-school or high-school girl who was the target of a bully. Usually, a girl is bullied because she has no power, and it raises the stature of the girl doing the bully, like how a top chicken will establish her dominance by pecking a smaller hen. Once the dominance is established, the bullying often stops. Well, it does with chickens and boys anyway. With girls, the power structure is always in flux. I’m not saying that Caffeine wouldn’t have gone after Cent, but she would have done it because she saw Cent as a threat to her dominance (ie. before Cent joined the snowboard team) and she wouldn’t have made her bullying primarily physical. Having a girl punch another girl in a locker room didn’t feel true. Caffeine wouldn’t have physically attacked Cent, she would have started a whisper smear campaign that Cent was a “slut.” And, quite frankly, she would have tried to recruit Cent to her posse first, since Cent was rich, and being a rich girl is automatically a boost in the social structure.
Also, Cent goes on at length about how she doesn’t understand people, how she’s inept at social interaction, but when the time comes, she acts like a pro. This is kind of those rose-colored glasses, where you re-imagine yourself as a teen with a teen’s body but the wisdom and maturity that you as an adult have. When Cent dates a freshman as “practice” the Cent in the story came off as so adult that I was a little creeped out by it. She didn’t feel two years older, she felt twenty years older. When she found out what was on the blackmail video, she went to great lengths to protect him. Me? I would have slapped him across the face and told him to stop whining about non-existent problems. He is certainly not the only teenage boy to do stuff like that, and if his parents are as religious and conservative as he claimed, they’ve had experience covering worse stuff up. But then, maybe I’m not that “good.”
Near the end of the book, Gould finally circles round and brings Cent’s story in line with her parents’ issues, as if realizing that “does the boy on the snowboard team like me?” is not as interesting as “are they going to kill my friends?” It got okay at the end, if a little contrived, with some ass-kicking. There was one great scene when Cent has been busting butt on the bad guys, and there’s a turning point when she realizes she’s become as bad as the people she reviled. At least, that’s how I took it. I thought that was kind of interesting.
It’s set up at the end to leave room for a fourth book in the series, but if there is one, I don’t think I’ll read it. Gould has gone back to the well too many times, and Cent (even with her new superpowers) isn’t compelling or believable enough for me to want to hear more of her story.