One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to read 3:59 was because it took place in a location very familiar to me. Like many...more Actual rating: 1.5 stars
One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to read 3:59 was because it took place in a location very familiar to me. Like many other readers, when I hear about a book that's set in my state or near my hometown, I feel this incessant need to read it by any means necessary. Unfortunately, 3:59 proved to be one big fat disappointment.
The book follows science wiz Josie Bryne who starts having dreams at 3:59 of a girl who looks just like her. As her own life begins to fall apart around her (she finds her boyfriend and best friend sleeping together, her parents divorce and she loses her job), she desperately wants the life she catches glimpses of when she sleeps. The girl Jo seems to have everything Josie wants: A perfect boyfriend, happily married parents and a perfect life. But when she finally gets the opportunity to cross over to Jo's world, she learns things are far from perfect.
This sounded like such an interesting concept with it being pitched as Parent Trap meets Event Horizon. I don't even know what Event Horizon is (Okay, so Kat says it's a really scary horror movie. 3:59 is neither of those things.), but Parent Trap (the one with Lindsay Lohan before her life took a decided turn for the worse) is one of my all-time favorite movies. Throw in some sci-fi alternate universe action and I'm totally there. Sadly, 3:59 bares no resemblance to Parent Trap at all and I really need for Harper to stop this whole "Awesome movie/book/concept" meets "Even more Awesome movie/book/concept" thing that they do. Frankly, they are usually so far off and misleading. It's like they're overcompensating for their novels. And let me tell you, there was some serious overcompensating going on for 3:59.
The Writing Style: So I took 3:59 with me one afternoon while I journeyed on the metro to my favorite children's book store. I read exactly 5 pages and had a sinking suspicion that this book was not going to be my thang. The writing style immediately had a very choppy weird feeling that never felt natural or smooth even as the novel progressed. There were inner monologues from the narrator found in between each section of dialogue, making the exchange seem very long. Someone would say something to Josie and then there'd be a paragraph monologue about what she was thinking or a bit of info-dumping. I couldn't help but to wonder what Josie would be doing in these time spans instead of answering the character's question. Was she staring at them while her brain worked to keep up with her mouth? Perhaps.
Flat Characters: I don't think there is a single character in this book that I liked or saw growth from. Everyone remained exactly the same from beginning to end. The narrator tells us that Josie had changed, that she was smarter and stronger, but I never got a sense of any of that. Each character had one trait that they encompassed and that's basically what they were for the entire novel.
The Plot: 3:59 relies heavily on science to explain why things are the way they are. It's supposed to be clearly logical. Josie and her friend, Penelope, are supposed to appear smart. And I do appreciate McNeil having intelligent female protagonists solving the mystery. My problem was that since the science behind the book was so very complex, I had an extremely hard time seeing a high school student (or several of them!) knowing that much at such a young age. Is everyone a physics prodigy and able to keep up with all those formulas? Josie just happens to know more physics than her teachers?
But, okay. Maybe I could get behind this idea if all the science jargon didn't create so many opportunities to info dump. Let's be honest, hardly any readers will know what Josie knows. So whenever Josie and Penelope went off of their science talk, there was conveniently another character in the room asking for the For Dummies version. Look, I am not the kind of reader who is easily impressed with an author's ability to recite Big Science Words. So I need to be able to see some type of explanation, and I never really got that. Instead, I got more questions: Where did the mirror in Jo's room come from despite Josie never having one in her room until she moved it there? Why did Josie only start having the dreams recently even though the connection to both worlds had been open for 6 months?
Then we move on to the actual logical fails 3:59 was filled with. There's this part in the book where Josie and Nick go on a tour of Fort Meade (a highly guarded military facility that houses different government divisions like NSA) where they are given a tour by one of the Directors. Somehow, Josie convinces the Director (because he's attracted to her) to give them a tour of a floor they have no business being on. Somehow, conveniently the halls are deserted. That is so inaccurate, I can't even. Then she conveniently leaves her purse on that floor in the bathroom only to later bat her eyelashes at the Director for his access card so she can retrieve it alone. I understand that this is fiction, but Josie was given way too many free passes in this novel. I don't care if she batted her eyelashes so hard that her eyes got stuck in a permanent twitch, there is no way someone is handing over their security badge at the Fort. And there is no way she would make it back up to that same off-limits floor with no one stopping her. You can't just walk around the Fort unescorted. It doesn't happen for security reasons. Where was the research done here?
But I get it. Sometimes you just have to go with it when it comes to some books (hard as that is for me most times). This book was supposed to be built around scientific logic, so I expected basic common sense rules to be applied in other aspects as well. Clearly, I was asking too much because later in the book, Josie just thinks to ask her father (in the alternate universe) to steal a government laser from Fort Meade. The exchange went ridiculously something like this:
"Hey, daddy? Can you steal that government laser for the highly guarded military facility? I need it. I love you so much! xoxoxo!"
"Anything for you, princess! Shall I pick you up some Burger King on the way out the Fort?"
Are you kidding? For Josie to be so smart, I am actually surprised she thought this was legit a possibility even after her real mother specifically told her to trust no one.
Then, right after a character is brutally eaten to death by the nox (creatures that haunt the alternate universe and eat people) right in front of Josie and Nick, these fools start making out right there. Things get hot and heavy, Josie has a moment when she realizes she's in love and she reaches up and grabs the dude's severed ankle.
"OMG, I freakin' love this guy I'm making out with!"
"This is so hot."
"Oh, shit. Is that a foot? Gah! How did this body get here?!"
"Oh, right. He just died."
Gag me, please.
It was there 3:59 and I had a strange turn of events. The book went from giving me a lot of these moments:
To where I could barely suppress a laugh:
Honestly, though, I was still being entertained... just not in the way the author probably intended it.
Insta-Love: So as if this couldn't get any worse, this happens:
She'd never felt this way with her ex-boyfriend. This was something different. Something deeper. Even though they had only known each other a few days, Nick knew her better than anyone else, and loved her even more because of it. - Quoted from 3:59 ARC, page 348.
Sure, sure. She's in love with this guy even though they've had maybe a handful of conversations (all of them related to the plot and had nothing to do with actually finding out things about each other), one of which was sparked by him pointing a gun at her. Boyfriend of the year!
I never once felt the connection between the two. They were these character stuck in this situation and randomly, romance was thrown in because, hey, every YA book has to have its romance. (Obviously, that was sarcasm.) But in the end, the romance didn't add anything extra to the reading experience and felt contrived and forced.
Predictability: However, I might have even forgiven all of that if only the entire mystery hadn't been so predictable. I know 3:59 is being pitched as a sci-fi thriller, but I never once felt the urgency because things were so painfully obvious. I knew who the bad guy was, what happened to her parents, who was attacking the humans, etc. Josie is depicted as a really smart protagonist, but again, spouting off science words is not enough if the reader is two steps ahead of your detective. The really sad part is that the mystery wasn't bad at all, but really lacked better foreshadowing and a much tighter plot. If I've already figured out the mystery by 50%, there's really no reason for me to stick around.
Not only was the plot predictable, but the character actions. And this is where I feel good old fashion character growth would have helped. Josie, as trusting and sweet as she was depicted, was, frankly, TSTL. I don't think this was intentional, but when you keep telling the reader how smart your character is, but they continually do really dumb things, it rarely works for me.
To Conclude: In the end, 3:59 didn't live up to my expectations. Had the plot and mystery been tighter, the characters better developed and the romance cleaned up, I would have probably really loved this one. Would I recommend this? My first reaction is, "Eh, no." But I do think if the above doesn't bother you much in novels, you may enjoy this one. I would, instead, strongly recommend checking out a sample to see if the writing style works for you and then abandoning all sense of logic at page one.
1 star because it's not the worst book I've read
.5 star for somehow keeping me entertained despite my frustrations
When I first picked this book up from BEA, I wasn't very interested because I saw the word "witches" and thought, "NOPE, NOPE, NOPE." Even in my revie...moreWhen I first picked this book up from BEA, I wasn't very interested because I saw the word "witches" and thought, "NOPE, NOPE, NOPE." Even in my review policy it states that I don't review books about witches. Why? Well, because of Harry Potter. I didn't want to sit and compare the two and I had a feeling that I would. What made matters worse was the fact that ended up being toted as The Next Big Thing from The Hunger Games to, you guessed it, Harry Potter. So it's a good thing this book was nothing like Harry Potter.
Upon finishing Half Bad my first thought was, "HOLY SHIT!", so I went to Goodreads to see what everyone else thought. It's interesting to see how split most people are on this book, and it's not hard to understand why. The enjoyment of Half Bad is going to largely depend on your ability to adapt to the writing style. How do you feel about second person? How do you feel about first person? How do you feel about flipping back and forth from those two different point-of-views? If you answer is, "I can dig it!" then let's roll through the meadows together as I wax poetic about how awesome this book was. But if you answer is, "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it," then Half Bad might not be your cup of tea and I've got only one thing to say to you:
Half Bad is brutal and spares no punches as we are introduced to the main character, who lives in a cage. A cage. Immediately my interest was piqued. I knew this was a good sign for me because I'm the kind of reader that struggles with most book beginnings. However, the perils that Nathan endures really horrified me, and as terrible as it sounds, I couldn't stop reading about it. There's nothing bright and sunny about Half Bad and the majority of it involves Nathan being ridiculed or tortured from a very young age because his father is the most hunted black witch. And so Nathan grows up alone in the community of white witches who despise him. He desperately wants to be accepted and not judged purely on his parentage, but no matter how hard he tries, the Council of White Witches continue to send restrictions:
-Any contact Nathan has with a white witch has to be reported -He goes to the council for yearly assessments, where he is questioned about the father he's never met -He can't have his Giving Ceremony with out permission (Think: Rite of Passage for Witches) -He can't travel anywhere without first having permission
It gets pretty ridiculous with the amount of rules place on a child, but the Council has their prejudices, and it's clear they don't plan to let up. Nathan, who's only freedom included traveling to Wales every once in a while, refuses to ask permission for travel. Yet, his half-brother (a white witch), who genuinely cares about him, begs him to reconsider. That scene was one of the saddest in the book for me.
Later that night, when I am getting undressed, Arran has a go at talking to me. I guess Gran has asked him to try. He says I should "rethink," "perhaps ask permission to go to one place in Wales," and some other stuff like that. Adult stuff. Gran's stuff. I just say, "Can I have permission to go to the bathroom? Please?" He doesn't reply, so I throw my jeans on the floor, get on my knees and say, "Can I have permission to go to the bathroom? Please?" He doesn't reply but drops to his knees with me and hugs me. We stay like that. Him hugging me and me still stiff with anger at him, wanting to hurt him too. After a long time I hug him back, just a little.
But somehow in all the abuse, Nathan finds a little happiness in a girl named Annalise. Their romance was both short and sweet, and inevitably would fail since it's forbidden for white witches to fraternize with black witches. (I want to take the time to point out that this is NOT a Paranormal Romance.) Sometime later, he ends up living in a cage outside.
The writing, as I mentioned before, flips back and forth from second to first person in the beginning, but tapers off and settles on first person present tense. I personally loved it because it's so different from other books. In fact, I don't think I've ever read a novel with second person that wasn't a Choose Your Own Adventure. I felt like I could really get into Nathan's mind and understand how he felt. It also made certain scenes more intense because it forces the reader to imagine themselves in his situation. So imagining my hand being burned off from acid wasn't fun, but different.
Kat and I happened to be reading this book at the same time and had similar thoughts about it being difficult to read at first. It was very depressing in the beginning to see a child being mistreated and tortured. I don't often encounter that in most of the YA novels that I've read. But it does remind me of the same feelings I felt while reading The Hunger Games in that respect. The scenes don't fade into black, Nathan screams throughout some of them and they just felt very visual and hard to process at times. I'm not a reader of horror novels nor a watcher of scary movies that have a lot of violence, so my tolerance level for this might be low. However, I do think those scenes are where Green truly shined. Plus, they'll make for a great movie.
When I went through and read a few reviews, some mentioned the implications of race since Nathan is a black witch being persecuted by white witches. It's interesting because I never really thought about it that way. Looking back, I suppose it is there. The black witches and white witches are different races in a way, but I viewed it more playing on the long accepted mythology that black witches were evil and white witches good and simply putting another spin on it. In any case, I wasn't offended by anything intentional or unintentional.
Strangely enough, even though Half Bad is about witches, there's not much magic in it. There are a few instances where there are spells mentioned and used, but the vast majority boils down to witches making potions. There are no wands or cloaks or three-quarter platforms. I think this was smart, otherwise, would we see a lot of comparisons between Half Bad and Harry Potter floating around. As far as I can tell, they don't have anything in common besides the same paranormal creature.
As much as I loved the narrative and premise, I do agree with other reviewers that mention the second half isn't as strong as the first. This might have something to do with how violent the first half is, and therefore, a lot more engaging to read. I don't know if that's the right word, but the first half is definitely more interesting. However, I still enjoyed the second half because if the book had been filled entirely of violent torture, I don't think I could have continued reading. The second half mostly involves Nathan, newly escaped from the Council, searching for a black witch named Mercury who can give him his three gifts on his 17th birthday.
The ending took me by surprise due to the reappearance from a certain character. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I am eager to continue this series. Do I think it's the Next Big Thing? Who knows. But it's a damn good book.
ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review.