In this overstuffed crossover debut, a narrative that zigzags chronologically paints increasingly disquieting elements into a seemingly typical teen romance/mystery.
The story is cast as a teenspeak monologue divided into chapters that alternate between an ongoing present and increasingly distant past events. Thea’s tale begins with the disappearance of Cam, a schoolmate recently arrived in their upstate New York town. As weeks pass, in the wake of Cam’s observations that time is coded and subject to hacking just like computer programs, strange incidents—a glowing tattoo appears on Thea’s shoulder; a flood of undeletable sex tapes begins to appear on the Web, growing sharper with every viewing—add a paranormal streak. Meanwhile, both going forward and in retrospective memories of six months of predictable highlights, like the pair’s first date, first kiss and first visit to a favorite diner, Thea drops chilling references to her previous history of sustained cutting and then institutionalization. Along with creating an unlikable narrator who cranks bad temper and emotional instability to exhausting levels, Eldridge stuffs her novel with extraneous subplots. She shoehorns in a devastating revelation about Cam’s identity and past near the end and then brings the whole story to a sudden close without explaining any of the mysteries or resolving any of the multiple plotlines.
A jumble of nonintegrated parts, admirable for its technical ambition but nothing else. (Paranormal/science fiction/fantasy/mystery/romance. 14 & up)