I wasn't far in to Found by Stacey Wallace Benefiel when I got the feeling that I was reading the literary equivalent of a paint-by-numbers portrait, or like someone who had read a treatise on how-to-write-a-hit-YA- novel and was gamely checking off the essentials. First of all was the setting, vaguely futuristic, but unrigerous and the jargon,("ret-tech" is a retinal use cell-phone, using "tech" as a catch- all verb meaning to call or text, "bueno" as a substitute for "cool") were flabby. The narration was first person present the trendiest, and full of arch commentary: "asshat" "like Ah, Yeeeeeeeeeah", and even "OM-to-the-muthaeffin'-G." If that wasn't bad enough the dialogue of every single character sounded exactly like this. I needed a scorecard to keep track of who was currently narrating what or saying what.
Then there are the characters. I said that they all sound alike. That's because they basically are alike. Well maybe I am being a bit fatuous. There are probably three types. Wyatt, the male lead is nerdy, self-deprecating, but as we get to know him, just surprisingly competent enough to not be a surprise at all. The rest of the characters seem to gain confidence in him as the book proceeds, but by my count his decisions just kept getting worse and worse. I wouldn't trust him watching junior high students swim in an inflatable backyard pool. His extended family and their friends are all hip, non-judgmental and uniformly bland. Then there is Penny Black, the main character. She is from a broken home, a runaway and ex-junkie street kid who refers to herself as a freak and a mess. She has rainbow hair, four facial piercings and is a retroact, a person who has the ability to reverse time, and change events on a grand scale. She is tragic, yet caring, and also somehow bland. As the book starts she is found by The New Society, a group of Berkley-style super-powered hippies who try and find and help other people with superpowers. Wyatt is to be her guide as they teach her how to use her powers, and protect her from the baddies, a group called the Crusaders.
I wish that I could give you a better synopsis of the plot, but I was hopelessly foundered rather quickly. It has something to do with the lead singer of a band called Squirrelish Figure, a genius scientist who is his double, and Penny's ex-boyfriend who are all entangled with the Crusaders. Well, the heroes make bad decision after bad decision, and then make up some ground by performing heroic feats of derring-do, and Penny keeps saving the day by re-winding time. Unfortunately every time she does she enters a fugue state and usually ends up cracking her ribs. But no biggie, because like Wolverine, it turns out that she can heal those in a day or so. Well after a handful of abductions and escapes and near-misses, and near-hits, Penny solves the whole enchilada but rewinding about a third of the book, and starting the whole thing over again, until everything turns out all right. Her and Wyatt fall into the sack together, and the future looks bright, because Psychics and their Lookouts, (which Wyatt appears to be), are bound for life. But oh no! Penny starts having death dreams about another of the hippies, and unpleasant punk named Kai. (Sounds like something you yell during a martial arts class.) And as everyone knows, all bound couples have death-dreams about each other. He's a dick, but also, a stud. So it's good-bye for now, to our happy ending, but hello to a sequel, or two, because Penny and Wyatt have to get together.
I have said before that I get no thrill from writing this kind of review, and I don't. Reading bad books is hard, and writing the review isn't much better. I just wish I was a Retroact so I could rewind this experience.