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Thirteen Days to Midnight

Review

Thirteen Days to Midnight

After the death of Jacob Fielding's foster father, he and his friends discover that he possesses a latent superpower. The three teenagers use Jacob's power to try to change the world for the better, but in altering people's destinies, they find that Jacob's ability is more a curse than a gift. Any preconceived ethical notions about the benefits of superhuman abilities are erased in this striking and wise allegorical warning about the dangers of excessive power.

"If you could have one superpower, what would it be?...Throwing balls of fire, time travel, nunchuck skills...blah, blah, blah. I've worked my way through every superpower there is and found them all wanting for one reason or another. The truth is that every power, no matter how amazing, is loaded with trouble of the worst kind."

Jacob has some idea that he's different from others, and so has thought a lot on the subject of special abilities and whether or not they are useful (in a practical sense). He sees most as "lose-your-soul-to-the-devil" kind of powers, and even his own is something he's really unsure of. It first happened when he walked away unscathed from a crash that killed his foster father, but he didn't fully believe at the time that his survival was out of the ordinary. After the event, Jacob is sent to Holy Cross Church/School to live with a priest who was a friend of Mr. Fielding's.

Jacob's best friends are Milo and Ophelia (the mysterious new girl at school). Ophelia is fairly secretive about herself and her home life, but is cute, lively and fun. So Milo and Jacob are out to win her attention. They are laid-back guys, both friendly and easy to get along with, so Ophelia finds herself in good company right away. After mingling, she quickly chooses Jacob as the new object of her rapt affections and a mixed-up romance begins, resigning Milo to the forgotten spot of best friend.

The competition to get the girl by Jacob and Milo is quickly overshadowed by their discovery of Jacob's superpower. The planned, sentient use of Jacob's power by the trio begins shortly after he writes the words "you are indestructible" on Ophelia's cast. With these words, Ophelia is placed under Jacob's protection from harm, and the three discover the significance of this by accident after Ophelia crashes on her skateboard. Like Jacob, she emerges without a mark on her, so they begin investigating why it happens and what it means.

Philosophically speaking, if you possessed the power that Jacob has, you would use your gifts to help people, right? And that's what Ophelia believes, too. It's with this honorable line of reasoning that Jacob chooses to function not for his own purposes but for the greater good of others, the standard motto of every superhero. Once Ophelia urges Jacob to actively seek out life-and-death scenarios, they discover it's within his abilities to change the future. The trouble is that the situation doesn't always play out as Jacob expects, and he ends up having to make personal life-and-death choices. Ethical questions also arise from which he can't escape, making him uncertain about the value of his gift and the implications for him as a person.

Whenever he uses this power, he must ask himself if "playing God" is appropriate and if it's possible to avoid becoming obsessed with this power and responsibility. Just how does one balance the value of one life over another? How does one understand what having the power of choice means and whether it's right or wrong? Is it morally correct to change the destiny of someone from a theological perspective (which Jacob is considering), allowing for God's will for people to die when and how they do? And does having power change the way your friends see you and value you (a relevant question in his recent relationship with Ophelia)?

The idea of having superhuman powers has become so idealized and overused that every conceivable power seems to have been done and then redone. Because this "recycling" has made the concept a tired one recently, it seems to require the command of a special kind of writer to make it interesting. Patrick Carman has ample writing skills and a unique-enough perspective to make it fresh. His superhero is a person who is not only capable of controlling great power, but is also strong enough to choose not to use it. The main characters are honest, decent individuals who, in attempting to make the best of their situation, end up with a life lesson. THIRTEEN DAYS TO MIDNIGHT will leave readers feeling good about the outcome while delivering important messages at the same time. 

Reviewed by Melanie Smith on April 12, 2010

Thirteen Days to Midnight
by Patrick Carman

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2011
  • Genres: Suspense
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0316004049
  • ISBN-13: 9780316004046