Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book of the Week: OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn

WARNING: This book is actually YA and contains some adult language and content. I wouldn't go so far as to call it an 'R,' but maybe a strong 'PG,' if not edging toward 'PG-13.'

First Paragraph (s): A zero like me shouldn’t take public transportation. 
The hunched driver wrinkled a frown before I even got on the bus. Her attempt to read my mind would get her nothing but the quiet of the street corner where I stood. I kept my face neutral. Nobody trusted a zero to begin with, but scowling back would only make the driver more suspicious. I gripped my backpack and gym bag tighter and climbed the grime-coated steps. The driver’s mental command whooshed the door closed behind me.

..., Esteemed Reader. What's that? You couldn't hear me? That's odd. I was thinking my thought right at you. Wait, you can't read minds either!?! Well, shoot. I guess we'll have to stick to traditional written communication for the rest of the review. Yawn.

I'm so excited about this week's book, Esteemed Reader, and I can't wait for you to read it. Open Minds is frequently available for free on Amazon, and depending on when you're reading this, you might be able to go download it for free right now. Or pay some money. Either way, get your hands on this book anyway you can and while you're at it you may as well pick up Closed Hearts and Free Souls (love those titles), because you're going to want to read the whole Mindjack trilogy. 

In the interest of full disclosure, author Susan Kaye Quinn is an old friend. I've mentioned this before, but I knew Susan back when she was writing mostly middle grade. The book I was working on at the time was a science fiction story, and I can't think of a better critique partner (sorry Mike Mullin) than a rocket scientist and engineer. Susan's a lot smarter than I am and a heck of a lot braver. That's cool. One of my life strategies has always been to hang around people who are smarter than I am.

We're going to talk about the book, I promise, but Susan was maybe the first or second Esteemed Reader ever to introduce herself when this blog began. She professed a love of Ayn Rand, but I've tried not to hold that against her. I remember I was interested in her because her blog was better than mine. It still is, and you could be reading it instead of this right now:) In no time, Susan and I were swapping critiques and tales of submission woes, which is what writers talk about until later in their careers when they talk about money. I held out until I got an agent, Susan went indie, and when I think of indie authors, it will always be Susan Kaye Quinn I think of. 

Because I told her not to do it. 

No, Susan, I said, don't publish an amazing trilogy that will be beloved by readers around the world. No, Susan, don't produce a product far superior to the majority of traditionally published books. No, Susan, don't promote your books more effectively than most traditionally published authors and build a huge fan base. No, Susan, don't become such a huge success I'm left eating my words watching you boldly go where I was too cowardly to follow:)

Susan Kaye Quinn, here, in front of the internets, I formally apologize. You were right and I was wrong. What I didn't know and you did was that you're a force of nature who was always going to be a success no matter what path you chose. By watching you, I learned to be a better blogger, and now I'm watching you to learn how to be a better author. 

Enough with that. Let's talk about Open Minds. Movie Preview Voice: In a world where everyone can read minds, the only crime, is not being able to, but being able to jack into other people's minds is also a crime, because, well, Kira can also do that, and, um. Oh heck, I'm going to let Susan explain the premise. She's better at that than I am too:

Long ago, everyone used to be zeros. When those first reader kids hit puberty and discovered they could read minds, the world didn’t know what to make of it. That first wave of Reader Freaks grew up to have more Reader Freaks. 
Now the only freaks were the few people who never changed. Like me.

If I had been born ninety years ago, I would have felt this way every day. Back then, it was the first readers who were different and paid the price for it. Grandma O’Donnell’s stories about the camps where the government held her dad and the other early readers still gave me the creeps. 
Only later did they find the pharmaceutical cocktail that had been brewing in the world’s drinking water supply. The mixture of drugs was everywhere, around the world, and by the time anyone understood what was happening, it had already started to activate the part of people’s brains that sensed thought waves. And it was too late to stop it.

Pretty cool, right? I once had a depressing dream I was the only X-man without a mutant power (self esteem issues much?). That's kind of what sixteen-year-old Kira Moore's life is like:

The longer I remained a zero, the more likely I would be that one-in-a-thousand who would never change. Zeros didn’t attend college—no one trusted them to do real work, so what did they need college for? I’d have to get some low-paying job where I wouldn’t have to mindtalk or be trusted. At least I didn’t live in a country where they sent zeros to asylums. In Chicago New Metro, I’d just be relegated some job that readers couldn’t stand, like guarding the demensward of a mental hospital.

If I didn’t change, boyfriends would be like college—an experience other people would have while I figured out my life as a zero. I pushed that thought from my mind.

The stage is set and wonderfully so. Kira's journey as a protagonist is clear. She has to fight to prove her worth in a society that cast her out. Whatever Susan writes for the rest of this book, she has to address this story issue, and it cannot be saved for books two or three. 

More, this is the universal appeal of Open Minds, certain to appeal to every teenager ever. Who hasn't felt separate, apart, and rejected by our peers, especially during the cruel social experiment that is high school? All psychic mumbo jumbo aside, this book is a mother assuring readers they're not alone in feeling awkward and there's hope that they'll find their place, as most of us do.

But the psychic mumbo jumbo is the best part! Kira isn't just a zero. She has super powers. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and in the world of mind readers, the girl who can control the thoughts of those around her is queen. In a twist worthy of The Twighlight Zone, Kira discovers she can "jack" the minds of others and control them as though using the imperius curse. And they don't know she's done it.

If that idea doesn't capture your imagination, nothing will. I lay awake a long time after reading Open Minds imagining what I might do with such an ability (I'd make people read books instead of watching Cheaters). And to Susan's credit, she demonstrates her teenagers using their powers for many likely activities, such as buying beer:

Simon’s command echoed through the attendant’s mind. We’re going to buy this.
 Well, sure you’re going to buy that. But you need some money, friend. 
From the tired sound of his thoughts, this wasn’t the first time Simon had jacked him to illegally sell beer. I nervously checked the parking lot. With my luck, one of my dad’s Navy buddies would stroll in to find his friend’s daughter buying alcohol. 
Simon handed the man two pieces of white plastic, both small and square. The attendant took the cards and held one up, examining it as if it wasn’t completely blank. In his mind, the card appeared to be a driver’s license with Simon’s picture.

All things considered, Kira and her friends show remarkable restraint with their jacking abilities. And I'm showing remarkable restraint in not sharing with you the many passages with uses of the verb "jacking" that made me giggle, because I'm forever twelve (hangs head). Kira has some fun learning to use her power, but just when things are getting a little too cozy, she's introduced to a secret society and a government conspiracy and a whole lot of action and intrigue, enough to fuel a full trilogy. 

And there's still time for spice:

He pulled me closer and his kiss was gentle, but the hot liquid feel of it still made my body sing.

Oh my goodness (fans self to cool down). Kira is, naturally, caught between two boys: her friend and the bad boy, both devastating handsome, naturally. If the plot and intriguing premise don't grab you, the love triangle will. Open Minds has something for everyone. 

It's a well written, well crafted novel, better than most traditionally published books I've read and a prime example of what I love about the indie market. Susan Kaye Quinn hasn't failed to produce a traditionally published novel, she's produced something better on her own terms that eager readers can't get anywhere else. Esteemed Reader, you owe it to yourself to read this book and to pay close attention to this author while she still has time for our emails because she's only going to get bigger and better from here. I doubted her once. I won't make that mistake again.

As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Open Minds:

I had as much chance of passing his class as the chair I was sitting on.

All thoughts of telling Raf the truth flew away like birds scattering before an approaching cat.

I was the worst friend that had ever lived. All Raf got from me was lies and insults to his face. I resembled that sludge, the green stuff that forms a slimy coating on the outside of cheese that was so old it had become hazardous waste. That was me: toxic green ooze. There was nothing to do with cheese like that but throw it out.

Simon pulled into the entrance. The car’s beams sliced white blades through the ash trees lining the forest drive.

Gray metal warehouses lined up like ammo cases and caught the red glow of the setting sun. Jagged shadows made the ramshackle buildings seem ready to collapse.




STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn't happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.

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