Friday, 5 July 2013

The Teenage Dead Zone: Slide by Jill Hathaway Review

Sylvia (Vee) Bell can get into other people’s heads. Literally. Vee has narcolepsy and whenever she passes out, she “slides” into someone else’s head and sees through their eyes. This is bad enough, but when Vee slides into the head of a killer, who is standing next to the dead body of her sister’s best friend, Sophie, her whole world spins out of control. With Sophie’s death ruled a suicide and Vee unable to tell people how she knows it’s not, she is left with no alternative but to use her gift to solve the murder herself.

Having mentioned Slide, one of my favourite books of 2012, several times already on this blog and given the sequel, Imposter, was released in late March, I thought it was about time I got around to reviewing it.

Slide is like The Dead Zone for teens, but without the apocalypse theme and with more interesting supporting characters. In Stephen King’s The Dead Zone (both the book and the TV series), Johnny Smith develops the ability to see visions of the future (or in some cases, the past) when he touches certain objects or people. He then uses these abilities to help the police, among other things. Vee Bell’s abilities aren’t that far removed from Johnny Smith’s. Like Smith, her abilities are based on touch. To slide into someone’s head, she needs to be touching something that person has previously held. She also uses her abilities to help solve a crime – in this case, the death of her sister’s friend – but unlike Smith, since Vee is a teenager, no one believes that her gift is real and she is forced to do her investigations by herself, without any police assistance.

Vee’s investigations in themselves make for pretty exciting reading. Truth be told, with the exception of The Dead Zone, I haven’t come across a gimmick like this before and definitely not in YA fiction. Furthermore, Vee’s gift, although similar to Johnny Smith’s, is not identical. From memory, in The Dead Zone, Smith only saw cryptic images of the future, which he couldn’t directly control, while Vee’s visions are more like watching a movie which she does have limited control over. So, Slide is a fairly original take on the mystery genre and one which Hathaway has used to great success. Instead of hunting for clues like a normal detective, Vee investigates psychically.

However, what made Slide one of my 2012 favourites were the characters. Because Vee can see through other people’s eyes, she is able to see aspects of their lives that they would otherwise keep hidden. This gives more depth and backstory to the supporting characters than is usually possible in a first-person narrative. In particular, Vee’s best friend Rollins, a long-haired, leather jacket wearing loner, is raised above the level of standard not-so-secretly-in-love best friend (a la Ducky from Pretty in Pink) to a complex and very sympathetic character in his own right. I eagerly await Imposter just to read more about him.

As with most YA novels, Slide has its fair share of “teen issues.” Suicide, date rape and family relationships all raise their heads. I assume Vee’s name is a reference to Sylvia Plath, the suicidal author of The Bell Jar, which ties in neatly with this. Nevertheless, these themes are all necessary to the plot and Hathaway has the good sense to keep the mystery at the forefront of the story, so her novel never starts feeling like an episode of Degrassi (not that there’s anything wrong with Degrassi).

Slide is a great start to what I’m sure will be a very promising career for Jill Hathaway. She is an author whose writing I will be following intently in the years to come.

Verdict: Worth reading for the characters alone, Slide is a fresh take on the psychic as detective gimmick previously used in The Dead Zone.

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