Friday, 30 August 2013

How Not to Write a Sequel: Imposter by Jill Hathaway Review

In 2012’s Slide, we were introduced to Sylvia (Vee) Bell, a girl with the ability to literally “slide” into someone else’s head and see through their eyes; a talent she put to good use when her sister’s best friend was murdered. In Imposter, Jill Hathaway’s follow-up to Slide, however, the shoe is on the other foot. Someone is sliding into Vee and making her do things she wouldn’t normally do, including possibly pushing someone off the side of a cliff. Now Vee must find the second slider in order to clear herself of attempted murder.

Just like with Hollywood blockbusters, it seems there is no such thing as a stand-alone YA novel anymore. If a book is successful enough and the main characters are still alive on the final page, it’s a sure thing the publisher will be going back to the author and asking for Book 2. Hey, why even stop there? Isn’t everything part of a trilogy now days? From the interviews I’ve read with Jill Hathaway, this appears to have been what happened with Slide. Nevertheless, just because the publisher and readers think they want more, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

Slide actually had the potential to give rise to a very good sequel, mostly because it was effectively just Stephen King’s The Dead Zone for teenagers. Since The Dead Zone, a novel of only around 400 pages (short by Stephen King’s standards) was able to be spun off into a highly successful TV series that ran for six seasons, it stands to reason that Jill Hathaway should have been able to get at least one more good story idea out of her psychic detective gimmick. However, in order to do that, there are a few things that she would have needed to do first:

• Expand the Universe in Which the Story Takes Place

Slide and Imposter both take place in a relatively narrow universe made up primarily of Vee’s family and school friends. Although there are a small number of new characters added in Imposter, most notably Vee’s aunt Lydia who comes to stay with her family, there’s not all that much here that we haven’t seen before in Book 1.

• Up the Ante

As a general rule, sequels should always be bigger and badder than their predecessors. In the case of Imposter, that would mean a higher body count, a scarier villain and a greater threat to Vee than was presented in Slide. Imposter starts off well with Hathaway introducing the notion of a second slider with the potential to use Vee as the ultimate murder weapon, but she doesn’t follow through on this premise. For reasons that entirely escape me, Hathaway seems more interested in having Vee dwell on her personal problems than on solving the mystery.

 Make Vee More Actively Seek Out Ways to Use Her Powers

In The Dead Zone TV series, Johnny Smith became a consultant to the police, allowing him to use his powers to solve a different mystery each week in a way that didn’t seem completely contrived. For Jill Hathaway to continue with the Slide series, she needed to come up with a gimmick like that. Admittedly, the idea of a teenager acting as a consultant to the police is hard to pull off (although Barry Lyga has managed it with the excellent I Hunt Killers), but turning Vee into a sort of psychic Nancy Drew or Veronica Mars would have gone a long way.

In my review of Slide, I praised it as being one of the best novels of the year. I am disappointed that I can’t say the same about Imposter. However, I’m not ready to completely write off Jill Hathaway just yet. I hear that her next novel, due out in 2014, will be about a completely different set of characters from those in the Slide/Imposter universe. Here’s hoping that the break from writing about Vee and her friends will return her work to the high standards set by her first novel, and that she isn’t just another YA one-hit wonder.

Verdict: A disappointing follow up to one of the best mystery novels of 2012.

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