3:59 by Gretchen McNeil

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Summary:

Josie Byrne’s life is spiraling out of control. Her parents are divorcing, her boyfriend Nick has grown distant, and her physics teacher has it in for her. When she’s betrayed by the two people she trusts most, Josie thinks things can’t get worse.

Until she starts having dreams about a girl named Jo. Every night at the same time—3:59 a.m.

Jo’s life is everything Josie wants: she’s popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her. It all seems real, but they’re just dreams, right? Josie thinks so, until she wakes one night to a shadowy image of herself in the bedroom mirror – Jo.

Josie and Jo realize that they are doppelgängers living in parallel universes that overlap every twelve hours at exactly 3:59. Fascinated by Jo’s perfect world, Josie jumps at the chance to jump through the portal and switch places for a day.

But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo’s boyfriend, he hates her. Jo’s mom is missing, possibly insane. And at night, shadowy creatures feed on human flesh.

By the end of the day, Josie is desperate to return to her own life. But there’s a problem: Jo has sealed the portal, trapping Josie in this dangerous world. Can she figure out a way home before it’s too late?

From master of suspense Gretchen McNeil comes a riveting and deliciously eerie story about the lives we wish we had – and how they just might kill you.

Review:

This is one of the books I wanted to like more than I actually did.

About a week ago, I had the fortune of seeing her at a panel of Young Adult authors held at a local library. I hadn’t planned to pick up this book before the panel, but I found the author to be so likable that I wanted to support her and give her books a chance, even though teen thriller isn’t really my thing. Although this book didn’t really change my mind, I do think that there is enough here that that it’s worth a look for the right audience.

The most important thing is that McNeil does make Josie a likeable protagonist. Although her decision to jump through the portal is ultimately selfish and perhaps a bit stupid, McNeil took enough time to make Josie sympathetic that you at least understand why she did it. It goes a long way to making the story work.

The story itself is all right. Like Ultraviolet Catastrophe, it’s central plot does revolve around experimental physics. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite as well here as it did in that book. On the one hand, the science is decent; clearly the author spent some time doing research and shouldn’t strike fellow non-physicists as anything particularly off. On the other hand, it worked in Ultraviolet Catastrophe because it was set at a school full of actual geniuses. This is set in a normal high school. A girl with Josie’s level of physics knowledge would in no way still be in AP Psychics. She’d be at the local four year, probably taking upper division classes. That her friend is almost equally as advanced? How? I know it’s not something that we’re supposed to ponder, but logic breaks like that are forever a pet peeve and a bit more problematic when the thrust of your story is centered around this conceit.

There is a romantic element (but at least no real threesome) that’s decent and the Nox (which need a better name, calling night-dwelling creatures “Night” always strikes me as lazy) are sufficiently creepy and play into the physics theme well and the whole thing moves along briskly. There’s a nice message in here about trying to make the best of your life because you can never know what lies behind another’s “perfect” one, but I don’t know, this book just lacks that hook, that je ne sais quoi, to reel that general audience in. Ultimately, I don’t see this book truly appealing to those beyond its intended fanbase.

Verdict: Borrow it.

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