Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mind Your Minders

Almost a month ago, I received notification that I had won a signed copy this book from Christina's Confessions of a Book Addict giveaway. After confirming my entry, she passed along my information to the author so she could mail me a copy directly.

The next day, I had a Facebook Friend confirmation from none other than the author, Kate Kaynak. Upon learning that I have a book-review blog, she was curious if I'd be interested in receiving and reviewing the 2nd book as well. How could I say no?

Of course, while I'm grateful for receiving signed copies of both books, my excitement at receiving them has passed, leaving me with a level mind. Both reviews will be impartial and honest.

And, as always, this review contains no spoilers.

Ganzfield Novels
Book 1
By Kate Kaynak
Amazon ~ Powell's

Maddie doesn't know how she did it. She didn't use a gun, a knife, or any weapon at all. All she knows is that one moment the three boys were stripping her clothes off, and the next they were all dead.

After the trauma of her abduction and her attackers' inexplicable deaths, no criminal system could punish her as much as she does herself. However, much to her surprise, instead of facing criminal charges Maddie is recruited into the Ganzfield Training Program.

Located on a remote campus in New Hampshire, Ganzfield is a school for children with very special abilities. There are the charms, those gifted with verbally induced mind-control, who pretty much rule the school; sparks, or pyrokinetics, can control, summon, and extinguish fires; RV's, remote viewers, can find anyone or anything no matter the distance; healers speed up the body's own restoration processes; and minders, or telepaths, can hear people's thoughts and feelings.

Maddie is a minder, one of only four in the school, and she's definitely making a strong first-impression. It's only been a few hours and she's already started to topple the charm-imposed social order. But mixing things up doesn't win many friendships, especially when everyone knows she can hear their thoughts. In a high-school populated by super-powered teens, can Maddie survive alone? Or will she have to?

I know what you're thinking—or, rather Maddie does. You think this is all crazy. There aren't such things as telepathy or fire-starters or mind-control. Well, maybe that's just what they want you to think.

Let me first say that I absolutely loved this story. It took a little while to warm into, but once Maddie found her voice, I couldn't get enough. Read the whole thing in one sitting.

I must admit, the beginning is a little rough. It's understandable, I guess, since the narrator is pretty much in shock from her abduction on page 1. But up until the point where Maddie's powers activate (in chapter 4) it feels extremely rushed. I understand being eager to get to the institute Ganzfield and start the fantastic world-building there, but I didn't feel like enough time/thought was given to the transition between normal life and this new one. Granted, Maddie is in shock, but I still would have liked a little bit of attention paid to the move.

Maddie is a very strong character, and not just in the sense of her powers. My only issue with her is the disconnect between her personality before and in Ganzfield. Before Ganzfield, she tells us she was one of the 'smart kids', she didn't have any close friends, and there's really not much else to talk about. However, as soon as she steps into Ganzfield she's suddenly appalled by the social structure and within a couple days vows to overturn the hierarchy. It's a little too much of a stretch for me to see a quiet, non-social girl turn into Susan B. Anthony at the drop of a hat.

Yes, it's pretty easy to draw comparisons between the Ganzfield novels and X-Men: a telepathic headmaster; a secret, secluded school/institute; genetic anomalies causing super-powers; super-powered teens learning to hone their skills... But the comparisons pretty much end there.

Right from the start, my first thoughts about Ganzfield were of how unorganized things seemed to be. There's definitely no all-knowing Professor running things here, no sure-footed faculty keeping the students in line, and even the healers on staff don't fully know what they're doing all the time. On the one hand, it made the staff more relatable, but on the other hand it strained the believability of the facility.

The overall feeling of Ganzfield was, as Maddie put it, very Lord of the Flies. The charms are free to practice mind-control on their fellow students, taking bullying to a new extreme. Imagine not only feeling pressured to do something humiliating, but actually being forced to do it. Between that and the multiple allusions to rape (though the word itself is never uttered), it made reading this book hard at times. This is definitely not intended for young readers.

I thought the science behind the super-powers was pretty believable. (Then again, I'm an avid follower of Fringe.) Pretty much, certain families have developed this genetic anomaly that allows their brains to process and manipulate energy. However, though many might possess this trait, it's only activated under extreme stimulation (adrenaline, for example), so only those who are administered this stimulant drug (dodecamine) have active abilities. There are only 6 known tendencies so far, so there's not too much variety, but it's also not completely out-there.

Romance-wise (oh, yeah, did I mention there's a huge romance in the story?) it was a bit too much for me at first, but I grew into it. Everything started out (again) at a rushed pace, that I was leery about how far things would be taken. However, I was very pleased with where it ended up by the end of the book...;-)

I'm soooo glad I have the next book on hand (Thank You, Kate!). The ending of book one isn't a cliff-hanger, but there's definitely still a lot to take care of. The supporting characters don't really come into focus until the last quarter or so, so I'm really looking forward to getting them a bit more fleshed out in the sequel(s).

Ultimately, I'd recommend this book for anyone who loves a good Young Adult Romance with slight tinges of super-powers and action. Even if you aren't big on romance, but still like YA with a super-powered theme I think you'll enjoy it—I know I did! If you hate romance...yeah, it's probably not for you.

Approximate Reading Time: 5.5 Hours