Friday, October 4, 2013

Fear and Trembling in Colorado: Mark Kruger's Overpowered

I will be honest.  I was a bit apprehensive when I started reading Mark Kruger's Overpowered, a novel about a teenage girl named Nica who moves to a sleepy town in Colorado to live with her father.  The whole thing seemed a bit too similar to the Twilight series for my taste, and in the first chapters, nothing happened that alleviated those fears.  In fact, as Nica started high school and noticed a mysterious, amazingly good-looking boy who hung out by himself, the plot seemed to have shades of Bella and Edward written all over it.

But as Nica began to realize that there was something very suspicious going on in this town--something that included green pulses of energy, a secretive corporation that controls the town, and teenagers developing abnormal abilities--my mind started to draw much more favorable comparisons, this time with Neil Gaiman's latest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Now, I realize that this might seem like a bit of a stretch.  And certainly, there are vast differences in the writing style, tone, and genre of the two books.  But both of them did an excellent job at reminding me of one of the truly terrifying parts of childhood--the lack of control over one's own life.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the narrator tells a story from his boyhood of a monster from another world who takes the shape of a woman named Ursula Monkton.  Ursula becomes his nanny, and he is powerless to stop her from worming her way into his family, winning the affections of his parents and his sister.  Gaiman does a masterful job of reminding adult readers of what it felt like to be a child who didn't have control over some terrifying thing in her life--and what's worse, who couldn't find any adults to believe her.

Kruger brings shades of this terror into his novel as well, and through this, his novel stands far above the Twilight series.  And while there are still the initial similarities between the two, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that while Twilight is mostly about the love story between Bella and Edward, Overpowered is more interested in what is causing these bursts of energy and how they affect Nica and her friends.  Not only are the bursts uncontrollable, but the powers they cause in the teens are as well (at least initially), and the adults in the novel appear to actively reject the possibility that anything out of the ordinary is going on. Just as with Gaiman's narrator, the teens in Overpowered lack control over their circumstances and have no adults they can turn to.  It's a powerfully terrifying feeling, and one that Kruger develops well.

Ultimately, Overpowered is a novel that is a fun, quick read, while still being able to call up the fear of being powerless.  Nica's worldliness got a bit irritating at times, and I found myself wishing for a much more definitive ending to the plot of this novel before the tension for a potential sequel was introduced, but overall, readers who are looking for something to tide them over until the next Hunger Games movie comes out might want to give Overpowered a look.

By Jen Miller