Pivot Point by Kasie West
Published: February 12, 2013, HarperTeen
Series: Pivot Point, #1
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Library book
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He shrugs. "Doesn't help to waste my time thinking about would've-beens."
Laila whispers, "He says to the girl with a mind full of them."
Addie Coleman has never been normal. She and her parents live in a secret compound for humans who possess the ability to use a larger percentage of their brain capacity. Humans with paranormal abilities. Addie is a specific type of Clairvoyant, called a Divergent. She possesses the ability use upcoming choices to Search potential futures.
Not even her Divergent abilities could prepare Addie for the news of her parents' divorce, however, and the knowledge that she has to either choose to remain at the para compound with her mother or go with her father to reside among normal humans (Norms) and deny her abilities has thrown Addie for a loop. The only choice left to Addie is deciding which parent to live with, so, with her best friend Laila's encouragement, Addie Searches six weeks into the future if she chooses to stay with her mom, and six weeks into the future if she leaves with her dad. By staying at the Compound, she remains in the life she knew and starts dating the superstar high school quarterback Duke. By moving among the Norms, Addie has much more of an initial struggle, by finds a true friendship with Trevor. Far from helping her make a choice, each future presents complications that Addie could never imagine.
By far the most interesting and unique aspect of this book is that ninety-five percent of the story's contents are not "reality" for the characters and their lives. Except for a chapter or two at the beginning and another chapter or two at the end, the majority of the story takes place in two Searches that Addie performs of her life in the para compound or living among the norms. These varying realities and time periods are meticulously planned and well-executed on West's part. Addie's "reality" is told through first-person past tense, while her Searches are told in the first-person present tense. Her Searches are further distinguished by the chapter headings, which define a word that contains the letters "para" or "norm" within it. Besides situating the storyline in one potential future or another, the title words and their definitions act as relevant teasers to the contents of the chapter.
While both potential futures are engaging and I could sympathize with Addie's impending decision, frankly I was a bit surprised at how much thought and effort she put into this choice. From the beginning, it is made clear that the Compound is the home of better-than-average humans. West does not go into a lot of explanations for how paras came to be, but the novel does reveal that paras are able to access a much larger percentage of their brains, which allows them to possess unique mental abilities. Addie is a Searcher, while her best friend Laila can erase minds, her mother can persuade others, her father can detect lies. And they are a small sampling of the overall abilities that this world possesses (and I must say that in comparison to the abilities that some of the others possess, Addie's is not very exciting). By leaving the compound with her father, Addie would leave the only life she's ever known, deny her own abilities, and live in hiding among humans. I suppose readers are supposed to get the sense Addie feels more of an attachment to her father than her mother, but I still was surprised at how seriously she took each of her options. Leave behind your old life and deny an important part of yourself in the process? Not a choice I'd willingly make.
As the two futures begin to tie in together very nicely, West's narrative choice becomes quite admirable. Many of the same major events are present in both of Addie's potential futures, but her role in them and how they affect her varies drastically. At certain points throughout the novel, Addie witnesses the same events from both sides — living life in the Compound and living as a Norm. It's fascinating to see how this one choice in where she lives has a ripple effect in how Addie experiences everything else.
In many ways, Pivot Point reads like a work of contemporary fiction. The struggles Addie and her friends face are not very paranormal in nature. They're mostly very relatable day-to-day issues that readers in general can empathize with — first love, new and old friendships, figuring out where to find a sense of belonging.
West takes Pivot Point to the next level, however, by adding philosophical and thought-provoking issues related to the “realness” of Addie’s visions to the mix. From the beginning, Addie admits that she cannot stand Bobby, another Para, because when she Searched a potential date with him, he assaulted her. Even with Laila telling Addie that event did not happen in real life, because Addie ultimately decided to not go on the date, that doesn't make the event any less real to Addie. I'd go so far as to argue that Addie's six-week futures in the Compound and among the Norms are real. Whether they happen in "reality" as others know it isn't as relevant as how Addie feels about the events. Trevor says it best when he asks Addie:
"Have you ever thought about that before? What if now, this very moment, isn't set in stone. What if you're just seeing a vision of what could have been?"
"I think about that all the time." I run my hand over his chest. He feels so real.
Simply because one future is not able to come to fruition in our linear-based world, does that mean it ceases to exist? West tackles the issue of alternate realities in a refreshing new way, and I thoroughly enjoyed examining the implications of multiple realities along with Addie.
Once the conflict ceases to be Addie's internal struggle, Pivot Point does lose a bit of steam. The external villains are not well-defined, and the major conflict presented at the end of the novel just didn't seem very plausible. Honestly, after the self-doubt, questioning, and gradual building up to an understanding of herself and her desires, the other conflicts feel a bit forced.
Overall, I found myself to be quite impressed by West’s debut. Well-written, well-imagined, and compulsively readable, its issues are few and far between. West presents an interesting portrait of superhuman abilities, where the focus isn’t so much on the abilities as on how people choose to live their lives both with and without them. I will definitely be staying around to read the sequel.