Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific accomplishment, and one that I have only managed once. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Elise Stokes’ Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, a young adult superhero adventure which I finished reading Sunday morning.
Characters: Cassidy Jones is a typical 14-year-old girl and the narrator of the story. She’s drawn clearly and well. Elise endows Cassidy with a sense of humor, a sense of right and wrong, a good heart, not a whole lot of confidence, some teen-aged angst and teen-aged snarkiness. Cassidy seems true to at least some of the girls I remember from when I was a high school student — admittedly a long, long time ago.
After a lab accident, in the grand tradition of superhero comics, gives Cassidy enhanced physical abilities, she finds her emotions have also become more volatile.
Counterpoint to the super-and-super-emotional Cassidy is Emery. He’s a tall, handsome teen, son of the inventor in whose lab Cassidy got her powers. Where Cassidy is hot-headed and impulsive, Emery is cool and studied. He’s a genius, too. Cassidy relies on his emotional stability and his grasp of tactics and strategy to help guide her through the action of the story.
The story also features bullies, friends and an estranged boyfriend at Cassidy’s school, all written well. Cassidy’s family– mom, dad, twin brother, younger brother seem to get along better than my own family ever did, but are believable nonetheless.
There are plenty of other characters, including a flamboyant bad guy and his evil henchmen and one henchwoman. Elise does a nice job with everyone in the story.
Plot: When the scientist whose formulas accidentally gave Cassidy superpowers gets kidnapped, Cassidy tries to find her. She’s aided by the scientist’s son boy-genius Emery. Crooked cops, school and trying to keep her powers secret don’t make it easy. Things get worse when Cassidy’s Dad, a broadcast newsman who is also investigating the disappearance gets kidnapped too.
Setting: I think I saw “Seattle” mentioned early in the story. Locales seemed to be generic suburbs, school, city. Not much travelogue material here. Scene settings are all described well enough to orient the reader as to what’s happening. I didn’t come away feeling I’d been to the Pacific Northwest, though.
What I thought could’ve been done better: Just like the last book, TWIXT, this is a toughie. I liked everything about Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula. For the sake of argument though, here are two points:
1. I touched on this in “settings.” To me, Seattle seems like a cool, exotic place. I wouldn’t have minded a bit if some landmark, touristy stuff had been incorporated. The Space Needle, Pike Place — Seattle has some great locales, and isn’t too far from the Pacific Ocean. Might have been a missed opportunity here.
2. I know calm collected Emery is counterpoint to volatile Cassidy. And that works well. Emery just seems too flawless. I don’t quite understand how he could keep from falling for Cassidy. I could see why he wouldn’t let himself, but he’s still human, and an adolescent to boot. I considered the story might eventually reveal him to be a robot, or genetically engineered to be totally logical — maybe that’s coming in the sequel. But that was the one slightly off-note of the book — for me, anyway.
What I thought was good: Well, basically — everything. The story is well-structured, the dialogue snappy and moves the story along. Action scenes are terrific. what I liked best, though is Cassidy’s point of view as she first experiences and shares with the readers her life with enhanced senses and abilities.
“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Dad greeted cheerfully, flipping pancakes at the range. “Pancakes always get you out of bed. Are you ready for these?” He offered me a plate with a couple of pancakes hot off the grill.
“Thanks.” I took the plate, feeling saliva collect in my mouth. What Dad said was true, but pancakes didn’t usually make me drool like a Saint Bernard.
What is happening to me?
At the table, I sort of grunted at the boys and grabbed the syrup. No rudeness intended; my strange pancake obsession required full concentration. Stuffing a huge gooey piece in my mouth, I almost moaned. It was like every tastebud on my tongue sang. Chomping down on the delectable morsel, I looked up from my plate and into Emery’s amused face.
“They’re good, aren’t they?” he asked, staring at my packed cheeks. I swallowed hard.
“Very ladylike,” Nate teased. Cramming in another huge piece, I gave him a close-lipped smile, appreciating the harassment. It made me feel less crazed.
“…drool like a Saint Bernard.” Love it.
I mentioned I liked the action:
One gladiator carrying an ax held it in the air. As he let it drop, the others let out a battle cry, rushing toward me with weapons raised. Though the advancing men were dream-like, my mutant side didn’t allow me to get lost in it. Without delay, survival kicked in, releasing adrenaline. With my blood rushing and lungs expanding, vision became my dominant sense, slowing the men’s motion and blocking auditory and smell. In the quiet, a focused calm took over as my sharpened eyes followed every man’s movement. My body prepared to engage. As the first weapon swung toward me, a dance began.
My body instinctively moved into a spontaneous choreography, following the rhythm of the swinging weapons and eluding them. Missing me, their weapons struck one another. During these moments when deadly metal bit into flesh, stimuli seeped in through my eclipsed senses, and I dimly heard screaming and clanging metal, and smelled fresh blood. But none of this interrupted the dance’s flow.
This action sequence is vivid, yet gentle in its way, a potent combination that works for me, while de-emphasizing the violence for the YA audience. Well done!
Overall: Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula is a polished gem of a novel. In my opinion the book works for any age reader who enjoys a good story — especially a classic superhero tale. But somehow this adult writer has captured the mind-set of an adolescent girl (a fairly mature one, admittedly) and created with it a fun, memorable YA character and story I’ll remember for a long time.
Good job Elise!