Part thriller, part sci-fi time-travel tale, part romance, this YA debut novel by Julie Cross has gotten serious hype, not to mention foreign rights sold in sixteen countries and being optioned for film before ever hitting the bookshelves. Which makes sense, because it feels cinematic, with a familiar plotline that takes on a few new twists.
Set in 2009, Tempest is told from the viewpoint of Jackson Meyer, a 19-year-old college student with an ability he has no explanation for: he can jump backward in time. Unlike most time-travel stories, however, Jackson’s jumps—no matter what he does—never impact the future. Which is bad news when an attacker who’s after Jackson fatally shoots the teen’s girlfriend, Holly. In a panic, Jackson time-jumps in order to escape and lands in his 17-year-old life. Perfect setup for a race to return to the present with some way to save Holly from being killed.
Unlike his previous short-term jumps, however, this time, Jackson can’t get back to 2009. His new normal is 2007, so he bounces back and forth between his 14 and 17-year-old selves, where he gets caught up in a sinister, complex mystery involving the origin of his own skills, the murder of his twin sister Courtney, and the real identity and agenda of their father—who might or might not work for the CIA, but is posing as a pharmaceutical executive. Trapped in the past, Jackson meets Holly again—and they connect again—even as he makes it his mission to unravel his father’s true purpose.
Eventually, the guy who shot Holly in 2009 comes looking for Jackson in the past, setting off a time-jumping frenzy of cat and mouse.
It has the potential to be seriously confusing, but Julie Cross skillfully manages to keep the reader plugged into where and when Jackson jumps to—and his jumps come fast and furious throughout the book. The timeline is deftly handled, with a combination of plot devices (Jackson has to find ways to learn the date and time of where and when he’s jumped) and Jackson’s own diary entries.
It’s nice to see a YA told from a male point of view and with a slightly older teen, although the character development suffers a bit from the determination to keep Jackson time-jumping at a breakneck pace. There are some nice pop-culture touches in the switch between years—2007 Jackson has to be careful not to flash around his 2009 cell phone, or let anyone know that Jon and Kate are going to break up. And of course when 2007 Jackson tries to pay for food with his 2009 credit cards, well, that doesn’t quite work.
One of the story’s most emotionally wrenching characters is Jackson’s twin sister Courtney. When the story begins in 2009, we already know she’s been killed, although not the specifics. Through Jackson’s time jumps we’re able to see her as life moves toward its inevitable end. The sibling interaction between the 19-year-old Jackson trying to navigate his twin’s questions about her future when he jumps back adds an emotional depth that survives even the frenetic time-travels.
The story takes an interesting twist into the science fiction realm toward the end, when Jackson’s abilities—and why he has them—become clearer.
This is the first in a trilogy, so while the book answers some of the questions, it raises many more.
Author Suzanne Johnson is a book geek with a fondness for a good dystopia. Her new urban fantasy series, scheduled to begin with the release of Royal Street on April 10 by Tor Books, is set in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Find Suzanne on Twitter.