In this YA sci-fi debut, a young man mysteriously gets smarter while dreaming and invents a life-changing device.
Fifteen-year-old Johnny Clark of River City, New Jersey, loves junk food and the Internet as much as he loathes school. He’s a mediocre student (who barely passed algebra), and yet he’s somehow built a small, battery-powered device from scratch; what the electronic device does, he’s not sure. When Johnny realizes that the knowledge to create it has come from his dreams, his slacker friend, Billy, notices his anxiety. He tries to cheer Johnny up with the latest headline about Citizen Sim, a hacker/prankster who’s targeted Google and Times Square. It also occurs to Johnny that he’d dreamed accurately about Citizen Sim before the anonymous hacker even appeared. Soon, Johnny’s reality starts to become dreamlike when his trigonometry class is briefly interrupted by four nearly naked strangers. Later, as he’s called to the principal’s office at the request of two detectives, fearsome skeletal creatures begin stalking him. A message from Citizen Sim appears on a television screen telling him to “ENTER THE CODE.” He types furiously into the device, and it displays the word “Gone.” Johnny, without immediately knowing it, turns invisible, and everything about his life changes. Debut author Solana crams enormous detail into setting up a delicious, go-anywhere plot. His narrative thrives on showing readers the unexpected, doing so in a giddy, winking tone. “The Clarks,” for example, “were the most dreadfully ordinary people.” Solana also revels in numerous geeky nods to superheroes (such as the Fantastic Four’s Susan Storm) and video games. As the book becomes more of a cyberspace action/love story, it expands into gorgeously rendered terrain (especially the overgrown Penn Station as a “living jewel”). Solana’s cliffhanger ending is perfect, too.
An utterly sublime debut and a must for pop-culture fans.