Review: “3:59” by Gretchen McNeil


15836516Title: “3:59”

Author: Gretchen McNeil

Genre: Multiverse/Alternate Universe, Sci-Fi, YA contemporary

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Josie Byrne’s life is spiraling out of control. Her parents are divorcing, her boyfriend Nick has grown distant, and her physics teacher has it in for her. When she’s betrayed by the two people she trusts most, Josie thinks things can’t get worse.

Until she starts having dreams about a girl named Jo. Every night at the same time—3:59 a.m.

Jo’s life is everything Josie wants: she’s popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her. It all seems real, but they’re just dreams, right? Josie thinks so, until she wakes one night to a shadowy image of herself in the bedroom mirror – Jo.

Josie and Jo realize that they are doppelgängers living in parallel universes that overlap every twelve hours at exactly 3:59. Fascinated by Jo’s perfect world, Josie jumps at the chance to jump through the portal and switch places for a day.

But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo’s boyfriend, he hates her. Jo’s mom is missing, possibly insane. And at night, shadowy creatures feed on human flesh.

By the end of the day, Josie is desperate to return to her own life. But there’s a problem: Jo has sealed the portal, trapping Josie in this dangerous world. Can she figure out a way home before it’s too late?

☆: 3.5/5 stars – a fun multiverse tale, but could have been better.

Review: The multiverse books just keep on comin’ in YA, and that’s a happy, happy thing. I love reading about multiple dimensions and alternate histories or universes, so “3:59” was definitely on my TBR list. And while it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, it was still a fun book, and I think a lot of people (especially those just getting used to the idea of reading multiverse lit) will enjoy it. If you’re looking for a good rainy day book, or a book to consume in one day, make it “3:59”.

My biggest issues with this book: predictability, and insta-love. There were a lot of moments after Josie went into Jo’s universe/life that I saw coming way down the road, and that definitely brought down my enjoyment of things. The insta-love definitely made the book harder to stick with, admittedly, but didn’t ruin it entirely.

So, Usagi, you ask, why 3.5 stars if those two elements brought down your enjoyment so much?

The answer, dear reader, is that even with those flaws, three stars are for a pretty solid book (McNeil is pretty dependable when it comes to solid, thrilling books), and the extra point five is for sheer entertainment and great breakdown of the science behind all of the shenanigans that take place in the book. The explanation of brane theory, combined with general m-theory and quantum physics, made it extremely accessible to the YA audience – and I’ll definitely say it’s one of the better, accessible explanations of all of that science in YA right now. McNeil did her research, and I gotta give her props for that.

The main cast could have been better. Specifically, I felt that at times that Nick and Madison were propping up Josie (in both universes) as the backstabbing best friend/natural nemesis mean girl and the unrequited love/cheating boyfriend. I feel like they could have been deeper, and richer as characters, but as I read on, I quickly figured out that this is a plot-driven book. Mainly. While I prefer character-driven, or a equally balanced plot/character-driven book, this one was a lot of fun, and when you have plot-driven books, it’s become common knowledge that the characters that are in the main cast but that are not the protagonist tend to suffer. Jo and Jo’s Mom could have been a little bit more fleshed out too (I read the ARC version, so hopefully this was edited in the final version). So that was a bit disappointing. But the sheer plot and pace made up just a bit for that lack of a robust main cast, so that was okay.

The great stuff was definitely with the Nox, and though I feel like their origin could have been depicted a little more clearly, or with a flashback or something instead of a simple footnote in the general Jo-verse backstory, I really liked them. Crazy beasts that you can’t see, are inter-dimensional, and literally shred the flesh from your bones in minutes? Me gusta. I wanted more with them (hell, a whole prequel would be awesome), but what we got was pretty great. The predictable part was with Josie’s relationship with the Nox, and while I did kind of sigh and shake my head there, it was still a fun spin on the “chosen one” trope that seems to develop halfway through the book for Josie.

There’s also the element of a retelling of “Through the Looking Glass” here (literally), that I thought was really fun, but it felt a bit like wasted potential as I felt like McNeil could have used that more to her advantage with Josie in Jo’s universe, giving it more of a twisted “wonderland” feel than what we got (a paranormal dystopia). However, again, what we got was enough, and it was fun, so I enjoyed it. And McNeil always excels at sensory imagery and language, so her brilliance in that technical area did help make up for many of the other flaws in other technical areas. The Nox attacks were my favorites, as were the trips through the mirror – they were horridly vivid, and gave me happy tingly shivers down my spine in terms of sensory imagery.

Final verdict? I’m pretty split on this one, guys, and since I read the ARC, I’m hoping that all of the flaws I found were edited once more before the final copies went out. Even so, this was a really fun book, and one I’d recommend to beginners in the multiverse genre for YA. “3:59” is out now from HarperTeen, so check it out when you get the chance!

2 thoughts on “Review: “3:59” by Gretchen McNeil

  1. I’ve heard so much about 3:59 and it sounds really good based on your review! Except, of course, for lack of great characters and an insta-love, it sounds really good! Great review🙂

  2. I’m excited to read this one, and I think it’s cool the author did some research into the various theories behind the science. Other reviews have said this one was heavy on science-y stuff, but I think I might prefer that to “so there’s this parallel universe.” Because there BEING a parallel/alt universe gives me so many questions so!

    The characters seem rather stereotypical, so meh. But I’m glad it got 3.5 stars from you!

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