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Book Review: 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil

Josie Byrne’s life is falling apart: her parents are getting a divorce, she has just found her boyfriend sleeping with her best friend, the whole school is laughing at her epic unspiraling.  And then something strange starts to happen, twice a day, at exactly 3:59, she looks into the mirror and sees a parallel world.  In this world, Josie thinks her parents are fine and her and Nick are happily together.  But the version of her in the mirror, Jo, is hiding a lot of secrets.  Secrets that might just get them both killed, and possible destroy a minimum of two parallel worlds.  When Josie steps through to the other world, will she be able to get herself back?

3:59 is a hot mess.  But it is an entertaining hot mess that I enjoyed reading and would add to my library collection even though I am about to tell you a lot of things that just did not work in the book.  But first, let me tell you one of the things that I loved.

This book is very science heavy and contains not one but TWO female characters who are academic and love science, in this case physics.  In fact, both of them are very good at physics (maybe too good sometimes, hard to say).  Even better, Josie herself loves science and does not seem to be a social pariah.  She becomes a social pariah, but that is because she completely emotional falls apart.  And yet, forced in the parallel world to fight for her life and the lives of those she loves, she also grows somewhat of a backbone (although possibly a little too quickly for the space of time that the story covers).  I can’t tell you if any of the science is accurate or even plausible, because I do not excel at physics.  I would love to know, because really bad science would definitely affect my review.  But there is science, and a lot of it.  I didn’t understand some of what they were talking about, but the two girls end up explaining it to other characters which helps somewhat, and what I didn’t understand didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. But apparently I can be bought with smart female characters, who knew?

The pre-dimension switch is not my favorite part of the book, and is in fact the weakest part.  But once the switch occurs the tension builds and I thought it was thrilling enough that teens would definitely keep reading.  There are creatures called the Nox that attack and kill people, a nefarious organization called The Grid that controls access to the power and lights – the only thing that will keep the Nox at bay.  And there was a lot of double crossing and elements of wondering who you can trust and can’t.

The relationships in this book are a mess.  Josie is dating Nick in her world, and when she crossing over into Jo’s world it is obvious that the two are not on good terms.  Josie slowly wins Nick over, but the truth is that I just don’t care about this relationship.  In both worlds, Nick is kind of a jerk.  In the “real” one, we know that he cheats on Josie.  And in the parallel one, he at one point abducts this new Josie by gunpoint.  The two just get over their issues with the real world versions of their love interests pretty quickly.  Like a lot of paranormal novels, it’s best not to examine the relationships too closely.

And then there is what is arguably the worst, ill timed, what the heck is happening here moment.  PNick (parallel world Nick) and Josie make out.  After breaking into a secret military base (completely implausible by the way and FOR THE SECOND TIME), PJo’s father has been killed by the Nox.  So this is the exact best time to start making out.  Not just kissing, he actually puts his hand up her shirt.  And then she reaches out and grabs . . . a severed foot.  Which kills the mood, as all severed feet do.  But still, if you are in a life and death situation do you really take the time to stop and make out after someone has just been killed next to you?  If you answer yes, than you deserve every bad thing that happens to you next.  Because gross.  And also, what?  Maybe I could understand a celebratory kiss in the heat of the moment.  But you know, living should be your focus right here, not what’s under shirt number two.

So, like I said, this book is a hot mess.  But it is also a glorious hot mess.  I can’t give it a high rating because it is tragically flawed and not especially well written, but it is compulsively readable and as a teen librarian, I can tell you that teens will read and enjoy it.  Sometimes, that is all that matters.  So I give this book 2 stars for quality of writing, but I give it 3 for entertainment factor, and it averages out to 2.5 stars out of 5, meaning it is a halfway decent book.

I will say that another thing that niggled at the back of my mind is that I had already read Through to You by Emily Hainsworth, another sci fi romantic thriller that explores the concept of parallel worlds.  

3:59 by Gretchen McNeil.  Published in September of 2013 by Balzer and Bray. ISBN: 978-0-06-211881-3