Impulse is the third book in Steven Gould’s JUMPER series. The first book, Jumper, which was more thriller than science fiction, told the story of Davy, a teenager who discovered that he could teleport. He used his ability to fight the terrorists who caused him some personal pain. In the second book, Reflex, Davy is captured by people who want to use his power for their own purposes and Davy’s wife Millie sets out to find him. Both Jumper and Reflex were exciting stories.
Many years have passed and now Davy and Millie have a teenage daughter named Cent (short for Millicent) who has just learned that she can jump, too. Davy is still paranoid because of the kidnapping ordeal he experienced so the family lives in a remote cabin in the Yukon, jumping in and out to travel the world and do humanitarian work. Cent, a very bright girl, is home-schooled, but despite her excellent education and her ability to instantly travel anywhere in the world to see, do, buy, and eat cool new things and meet cool new people, she decides that what’s missing in her life is the experience of small-town American high school. So she talks her parents into taking on new identities, buying a house in the states and sending her to high school. She tests out of her grade, but decides not to skip ahead so she can be with kids her age.
Thus starts a typical high school drama that includes all the stuff you normally find in these types of stories… plus teleporting. So, we have:
✓ a protagonist who’s smarter than everyone else
✓ who enters a new school in the middle of the term
✓ where she learns on the first day that the lunch room is divided into cliques — the football team, the fundamentalists, the nerds, the geeks, the gangstas, the wangstas, etc
✓ so she ends up sitting with two unpopular nerdy girls who love anime and quote literature
✓ one of whom is the requisite Goth girl
✓ and she has a horrible first day in gym class when the bitchy queen bee tortures her in the locker room, in the gym, and in the shower afterwards
✓ and there’s a nasty assistant principal who’s got it in for homeschooled students
✓ and one really cool teacher
✓ and there’s a boy she has a crush on
✓ and soon she and her friends are being threatened by bullies and they must figure out how to outwit them
Much of this was so hackneyed, though there were some bright spots such as the focus on snowboarding (instead of football or basketball).
But that’s not the only reason I didn’t like Impulse. Another problem is that Cent and her family are essentially the “Sue” family. They’re annoyingly noble, intelligent, educated, mature, and sophisticated, and the way they are portrayed compared to every other character just makes the whole thing feel smugly superior. There are so many examples of this — Davey and Cent using everyday opportunities to calculate physics and math problems in their heads, their realtor being ignorant of African geography, the small town vandalizing electric cars because of their gas and oil industry, Cent being teased for doing her homework correctly and not procrastinating, Cent and Millie quoting Shakespeare in their conversations, Millie quoting FERPA to the high school secretary and getting mad at a PTA meeting because they want to raise money for the football team instead of academics, Cent blowing away the placement exams despite being home-schooled, Cent eating foreign food with chopsticks at lunch and, of course, the whole family spending their free time jumping around the world on humanitarian missions. A few of these things would have been fine and fun (the humanitarian missions were cool), but it all added up to be just too much superior urbanity at the expense of the crude small-town hicks.
For such intelligent and rational people, though, I couldn’t figure out why they kept nearly giving themselves away after taking such pains to hide their ability to jump. They don’t actually live in the house, Millie jumps to PTA meetings, and Cent jumps out at lunchtime to get hot foreign food to eat.
Except for the normal teenage high school drama, not much happens until the end of the book when Cent begins to uncover some nasty goings on when dealing with the bullies. The action picks up when she begins using her jumping power to try to set things right and the story gets pretty tense. It was too little too late for me, though.
Impulse is published by Tor (not Tor Teen) but the promotional materials indicate that it’s for a teen and adult audience. Some parents might like to know that there’s a lot of foul language, but that’s not what bothered me. Maybe I’m a prude, but I didn’t think it was suitable for Millie to be recommending condoms for Cent’s first date. Worse, though, was the description of sex that was, as Cent euphemistically put it, “outside the normative range.” I can’t be more specific without spoiling the plot, so if you want more details, highlight this spoiler: videotapes showing a teenage girl giving oral sex to an older man, a teenage girl having sex with eight guys, and dildos being used on teenage boys. To be fair, I should mention that Impulse gets mostly high marks from reviewers at GoodReads and Amazon. At the time I’m writing this, mine is a minority opinion.
I listened to the audio version of Impulse which was produced by Brilliance Audio and read by Emily Rankin. Ms. Rankin gave a really nice reading.