BEING HELD PRISONER BY TELEPORTING ALIENS!
KEPT FROM NORMAL LIFE.
ALSO ICE CREAM.
Cent’s not your everyday average teenage girl. For one thing, she doesn’t officially exist. She’s lived her entire life in isolation, raised by her parents in the middle of nowhere. But she’s received the best education the world can offer her, for her parents—Davy and Millie Rice—are teleporters, able to travel vast distances in the blink of an eye. Some…unfortunate incidents involving the government and other conspiracies many years ago caused Davy and Millie to withdraw from society and lead a life of paranoid secrecy. As a result, their daughter has had a decidedly nonstandard upbringing. She’s extremely smart, self-assured, sarcastic, quick-witted, resourceful, and well-read, but when it comes to dealing with her own kind (teenagers) she’s about as socialized as a Pekingese running feral in the big city. She’d love to have a normal life, but as long as people are looking to capture and exploit the so-called “jumpers,” she and her family must stay off the grid.
And then, one day, Cent discovers that she too is a jumper.
And all bets are off.
Now that the world is her oyster and she’s proven capable of taking care of herself, Cent’s parents reluctantly allow her to attend school. They pick out a nice, quiet, isolated school in the small town of New Prospect, somewhere in the American Southwest. Teleporting girl, raised by parents, meet high school. High school, meet Cent.
Here’s where the story essentially splits in several directions. The main thread follows Cent as she refines her newfound powers while dealing with her new status as a “normal” teenager. You know, making friends, making enemies, joining the snowboarding team, meeting a nice guy who might just be date-worthy, the usual. However, this thread is also interwoven with a stranger, darker subplot involving the local mean girl and what seems to be a drug ring utilizing sexual blackmail to enlist potential pawns and patsies. Cent pretty much goes vigilante/superhero as she investigates and deals with the problem in order to protect her newfound friends. It’s a dissonant note, going from the light-hearted “superpowers and prom dates” to the more mature elements.
The secondary thread involves Cent’s parents (and Cent herself) as they deal with issues like refugee aid in Pakistan, flood relief in Bangladesh, and the ongoing threat of whatever conspiracy is still hunting them. It’s easy to see how Cent’s life is so dichotomous, when she can go from worrying about homework to rescuing sex workers in Bangladesh.
Impulse is…well, it’s like a book that wants to be YA but can’t shed itself of the more adult tone and themes much of the time. It builds upon the story started in Jumper and continued in Reflex (while pretty much ignoring Griffin’s Story, which was really just created to tie the series into the changes made for the movie adaptation), showing us how Davy and Millie have grown up over the years. It’s sort of disconcerting: we first met David Rice as a teenager in Jumper, and now he’s the father of a sixteen-year-old daughter who’s having her own adventures. He’s still hiding from those who’d exploit his powers, while trying to make a difference in the world, doing good on the down-low for a number of NGOs in far-flung areas. But now he also has to worry about his daughter wanting to date, never knowing if she’s in the same house or even in the same country.
But this isn’t Davy’s story, not really. It’s Cent’s, and she takes center stage in a big way. She’s a fantastic character, fiercely independent, resourceful, imaginative, and intelligent. She figures out uses for her powers Davy never even imagined, with all the near-suicidal confidence only a teenager can muster, and it grants her amazing versatility. Sure, one might argue that she’s too competent, too confident, too clever, but she’s also had a decidedly strange childhood, trained almost from birth to handle almost any problem by parents who believe in preparedness and paranoia. If you ask me, she’s exactly the sort of kid Davy and Millie deserve.
But while this is a book about a teenager, it’s not marketed as a YA, nor is it really a YA in tone or focus. It exists in an awkward, mutable grey area, capable of appealing to either age group. It’s both the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with her unique life and special abilities, and the continuing story of a formerly-teenage protagonist all grown up and forced to accept that his child can take care of herself.
On the whole, this book is a lot of fun. Clever characterization, witty banter, creative exploration of superhuman abilities, and protagonists worth following. Gould also acknowledges that his characters are part of a larger world, taking advantage of their teleportation abilities to take them to some otherwise underutilized locations. This isn’t surprising; Gould’s always been one to work a certain awareness into his writing, even as he challenges authority and encourages independent thought and personal responsibility. In Jumper, David Rice used his powers to rob a bank and fight terrorists. Now, in Impulse, we see the entire family taking supplies to much-needed locations and combating human trafficking. They understand that while they can’t solve every problem, they can at least do a little good. And yes, Gould manages to insert characters of color and queerness into the narrative, without making a big deal out of it.
While Jumper will always be my favorite of the series, Impulse ranks a very close second, and I hope we get to see more of Cent at some point.
Impulse is published by Tor Books. It is available now.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at www.michaelmjones.com. He is the editor of the recently-released Scheherazade’s Facade anthology.