YA Weekend: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Series: Book 1
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (March 21, 2017)
Length: 464 pages
On the surface, this book had everything going for it: an original premise, a tantalizing mystery, a very promising plot. By all accounts, I should be extremely pleased with it, so why then can I not seem to shake this vague sense of discontent? Perhaps it is precisely because this book had so much potential, and knowing that it could have been even better is the source of my disappointment. Had the author carried out his ideas more effectively—and not tried to do too much all at once—the story might not have started fraying at the seams as it did.
Nemesis introduces us to two main POVs, the first of which belongs to Melinda “Min” Wilder, a teenage girl who has been experiencing a frightening occurrence every two years ever since she was eight years old. Every other year and always on her birthday, a strange man in a suit with glasses finds her alone and kills her. Whether it’s throwing her off a cliff or bashing her skull in with rock, he never fails to show up and do the job. And as if that isn’t horrifying enough, what happens next is even more disturbing—after dying, Min always finds herself waking up again, alive and whole, in the same spot in the middle of the woods of her small rural Idaho town. The first time it happened, she walked home to find that only a few hours have passed since her death. During that time, all evidence of her killing had been erased. The second time it happened, on Min’s tenth birthday, the town psychiatrist diagnosed her with a dissociative disorder. Min was prescribed medication that she has been taking every day for the last six years, but without fail, the mysterious suited man still always shows up on her even-numbered birthdays and kills her.
Our second POV character is Noah, and though he doesn’t get to chime in until later, we first get to meet him through Min’s eyes. As the son of the richest man in town, Noah appears to have it all: money, good looks, and popularity. However, the truth is a lot more complicated. Despite being surrounded by friends, Noah is often emotionally aloof, quiet, and generally unassertive—pretty much the complete opposite of Min and her best friend Tack. Publically, Noah puts on a stoic face, but privately he is haunted by nightmares of violence and death. For almost all his life, his father has been telling him what a weakling he is for not being able to overcome the hallucinations and bad thoughts in his head. After so long, Noah has even started to believe that he is useless and weak. When his jerk friends start bullying Min and Tack, all he can do is stand silently by and watch, too timid to speak out against Ethan, the leader of the popular kids.
By the way, in the middle of all this, the rest of the world at large is facing bigger issues. At the beginning of the book, we’re made aware that earth is in danger of being in the direct path of a huge asteroid hurtling through space. The Anvil is deemed a planet-killer, and as the story opens the whole world is holding its breath for a press conference in which NASA will announce whether or not the asteroid will make impact. Scientists are putting the odds at 50/50.
With all this going on, how could I not think Nemesis would be great? And indeed, at least in the first half, the book lived up to the potential promised by its synopsis. The suspense was bolstered by the intrigue and all the questions of which there were plenty, such as, just what the hell is going on with Min? Assuming she is right in her convictions and that none of this is all in her head, how is what’s happening to her even possible? Is there a significance in the fact that she and Noah share the same birthday? And what does all this have to do with the giant asteroid threatening to end all life on earth?
The good news is, we get the answers to all these questions by the end of the book. The bad news though, is that explanations seldom live up to the hype generated by the mystery in these sorts of situations, and this can’t be more true in the case of Nemesis. I also didn’t really enjoy how the story took a turn in a completely different direction around the halfway point, when we abandoned the mystery and things sudden devolved into a Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games fiasco. It felt like an attempt to make this book conform even further to YA conventions, which of course never makes things more interesting.
That said though, overall Nemesis was an enjoyable, entertaining book. I liked that about it. But somewhere along the way, I also felt the story lost sight of its goal to be different and unique and exceptional, reverting back to the usual tropes to order get in on the teen dystopian boom. To be fair, I rarely take issue with the tropes themselves, which can be fun. But a lot of books seem to fall into this trap, and quite frankly I’m really starting to get tired of it. I also felt somewhat let down by the ending, which offered an explanation for everything but had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. After all the buildup and anticipation, I honestly expected more, and the scenario we got struck me as absurd and not well thought out.
All told, Nemesis could have been great, but halfway through I felt it started to become a different book. The premise was also fantastic, but for all the intriguing questions it raised, the answers offered at the end made me think Reichs might have bit off more than he could handle. Still, I’m not closing any doors to the possibility that I’ll read the sequel. Like I said, this book was overall fun and entertaining, and I think there’s also a good chance the next one can turn things around and bring us back to the suspense and mystery we first saw in the intro, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.