Interworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
Joey Harker isn't a hero. In fact, he's the kind of guy who gets lost in his own house. But then one day, Joey gets really lost. He walks straight out of his world and into another dimension. Joey's walk between the worlds makes him prey to two terrible forces -- armies of magic and science who will do anything to harness his power to travel between dimensions.
I actually listened to the audiobook, read by Christopher Evan Welch.
First a little history: This originated as a TV show pitch, with both Gaiman and Reaves having done a fair bit of TV writing. When they didn't get any takers, they turned it into a novel *.
I've wanted to read this for some time, because I am an unabashed Gaiman fangirl. I did attempt reading it once, but due to some bad timing, I didn't finish it. Unfortunately it has some really rather bad reviews, primarily from other unabashed Gaiman fans, disappointed this is a "not very Gaiman" book. I think, perhaps, that's being a little unfair. It is certainly not American Gods, or Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it's not a bad book either.
Nor is it particularly groundshaking in subject matter: Joey is a teenager with a talent, there is a multiverse of similar and not-so-similar worlds, There are two opposing forces, neither particularly nice, warring over this multiverse, and Joey is coopted into a force dedicated to seeing that neither can win, and a balance is maintained. There is a bit of a unique twist as to who else makes up that balancing force, Interworld, but really, this is just a good solid adventure story. That manages to drop terms like geas and uncertainty principle straight into the same sentence, and have it work.
I think this is one of several books that for me work better as an audio book, and I wonder if that's due to it's genesis as a script. It's dialogue heavy, even the exposition often takes the form of an internal monologue. That can be a little disjointed to read, but it makes for good audio, and I thought the narrator did a good job with accents and character voices, providing enough characterization that it was quite an enjoyable listen.
It's also worth noting, this is not an adult novel. Although the protagonist, Joey Harker, is YA aged 15-16 during the course of the book, it's equally suitable for middle grade, or perhaps MG moving into YA book. There's no romance, but there is a level of violence and some horror elements, so I possibly wouldn't go too young with it. It's a short (for an audio book) listen, at 5 some hours.
My youngest daughter, the same age as Joey, that is 15 going on 16, really enjoyed it. Although she's not at all averse to boys in theory, and one boy in particular, she doesn't enjoy much YA literature due to the heavy romance. For instance, she thinks The Fault in Our Stars is "ridiculously lovey dovey", so this was a win for her. And while she's certainly a fantasy fan, she mentioned that she particularly likes this kind of crossover between fantasy and sci-fi, describing it "like it lives on the same shelf as Douglas Adams and Doctor Who". Clearly most hard sci-fi fans would shelve this all the way over on fantasy, but I wouldn't - I'd call it a gateway drug, but in a good way.
Similarly, a perennial complaint by adult readers is that much of Joey's training is glossed over with a couple of time skips, and we'd find them fascinating. When I discussed this with daughter she thought it was just fine "Why would I want to hear about his classes and school... I get enough school at school." So while it may not entirely work for everyone, it hit the sweet spot for her, and I guess she's the target audience more than I am.
There are two followup books, one published, one due next year, but this works well as a standalone. Also a note as a parent: I appreciated reading a book where the protagonists family is a stable and loving one, you'd think from modern childrens/YA literature such a thing doesn't exist. Joey's mum and dad, although they don't have a big role in the story, seem much more real than any parents I've read about in a long long time. Ditto seeing a teenage boy depicted as having a loving (if occasionally frustrating) relationship with younger siblings. More of this please!
Recommended for: Teenagers, particularly fantasy fans who might like some soft sci-fi. MG readers looking for something a little challenging. Gaiman fans who aren't expecting another Coraline, and anyone who doesn't mind getting magic dust all mixed up in their quantum physics.
* After it was published as a novel, Dreamworks optioned it some years ago, but nothing's come of it yet. I think it'd make a great movie or tv series, and I also think, it'd make a really good Graphic Novel.
I'm giving this a 3: I liked it quite well, and I'd happily read the rest of the series, but daughter says 4 from her, so splitting the difference for BL.