This is the story of a girl born into a very conservative family, the kind of family that always does things the way they’ve always been done. The only problem is, the girl, Piper, can fly. And that is certainly not something that people have always done. So when a woman comes to to take Piper to a school made just for people like Piper, it seems perfect. Some of the kids can move things with their mind or see through things or control electricity. Others can change their size or control the weather. Once there, Piper discovers that not everything is as it seems. Friends and enemies are not as clear as it first appears. The school may not be to help people like Piper after all. Piper, with the help of the other kids in the institute, must escape before they lose their special abilities once and for all.
The premise behind this book certainly isn’t the most unique of stories. It’s sort of a kid’s version of the X-Men. The story is fun but what made it hard for me to get through was that Piper, the main character, was not endearing. She was supposed to be sweet and inquisitive, full of energy. To me she was just as annoying as most people found her to be, but whereas the characters grew to appreciate her talkative nature, all I wanted was for her to be quiet. And while she was meant to say strange things with a Southern accent to exemplify her upbringing, I found it disruptive.
One of the premises of the story is that if you don’t use your magic you will lose it. But this is contradicted in one of the final scenes of the book which makes me wonder if ultimately there was no threat and you just had to make people remember. There’s also the question of J which remains unresolved. I think he could have played a bigger, more interesting part in the story. I also wonder why he (who I believe to be Johnny), as an adult, could not see what the children saw, which is that they have abilities and the people of the institute do not.
My final problem came from the fact that I think the narrative was somewhat contradictory. It made me feel like I didn’t know if I could trust the narrator, who was omniscient, which is a strange feeling. Specifically, the way that Conrad was described constantly contradicted itself. He’d grown mean and mad, except that he was always trying to help everyone, but he was mean and mad, but he was saving people…Mean and mad just wasn’t the right term for how he was feeling. Pragmatic, pessimistic, clinical, those are all things that describe him. Granted, this is a kids’ book so you’d need to find words that aren’t so difficult, but it just felt like the narrator got it wrong.
Ultimately, I found that the book fell short. It had the potential to be really exciting but the details didn’t all add up and the characters didn’t make me want to root for them beyond the fact that they’re children and it’s awful for them to be mistreated. (So, it was a generic root for the good guys, not a feel bad and really care for them kind of feeling.)