Double Cross by Carolyn Crane

“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you accumulate.” And this is what Justine Jones, hypochrandriac and professional dissolusionist, intends to do in Double Cross by Carolyn Crane. The plot is twisting, the characters surprising, and the ending fantastic.

Justine Jones has finally put her hypochondria to good use: she zings it into criminals trapped behind the invisible barriers her boyfriend, and the mayor of Midcity, Otto Sanchez creates with his ability. But she’s beginning to question if the criminals are really criminals, and if “restarting” them by overloading their systems with fear is really the right and moral thing to do. Justine asks ““Then do we really have a right to change them? Isn’t it a human right to be who you’ve become?” But Justine doesn’t have a choice. Once you start zinging out the fear, you can’t stop. You’ll lose your mind, become a shell of a person. This dilemma will bother her throughout the book.

Everything about this book surprised me: the plot, the characters, and the new depth of backstory Crane adds in this second book. We learn things about Otto and criminal mastermind Packard, things that reverse our opinions of these two contrasting characters: “According to rumors, there was an epic battle between them. The school was reduced to rubble. Packard and Otto clearly have a pact of secrecy about it. I’ve come to hate the secret. I feel like it’s huge and formative, and my ignorance of it prevents me from truly knowing Otto—or Packard, for that matter.”

Justine grows some…courage, and moves away the whiney, scared woman obsessed with clothes she was in Mind Games. She’s now much closer to a character I can admire and respect. But she’s not quite there yet. Maybe next time, Ms. Jones.

And we get to know dark, depressed Shelby a lot better. Justine loves the woman like a sister, despite her strange personality: “I used to think it was part of her Eastern European fashion sense that drew her to colors that clash, but now I see it as a uniquely Shelby thing. A grim, hopeless girl swathed in colors at war.” Shelby, a fellow dissolusionist with a specialty in her extremely bleak outlook on the world, provides humor and backbone to this story.

And the world of Midcity and its Highcaps is a complex and deepening point in this trilogy. The way Crane explains the development of the highcaps’ powers is fascinating, and reminded me of Heroes: “Helmut told me that when a highcap is a small child, the highcap mutation is blank possibility; like a stem cell, it can evolve into almost anything. At some point, a highcap child’s nature and personality determine what his or her highcap power will be. The child who wants things from outside his crib becomes a telekinetic. The child who yearns to know what others are thinking becomes a telepath—and telekinesis and telepathy are by far the most common powers. Then there are several oddball powers. As children, dream invaders wanted to interact with sleeping people. Helmut has speculated that Sophia had the impulse to hide the truth. Otto wanted to interact with buildings. And apparently Packard wanted to understand.”

And the writing itself is great: simple but sometimes poetic. This is a very visual and emotional book, and the descriptions match this tone: For example, “A lonely coat-rack stands next to a metal folding chair, and a bare lightbulb dangles into the center of the space. The windows and walls are bare, save for three doors on the far side. The place would be the perfect setting for an avant-garde play about bleakness,” and “I feel panicky, like things are growing distant: the sun, the moon, my dreams” bring feelings of loneliness to the story. And poor, trapped Justine and her friends, destined to zing fear into people for the rest of their lives, lead very lonely lives.

But the ending flips so much of what we know upside down and turns it all inside out. It’s a heck of a lead in to the third a final book of Carolyn Crane’s Dissolusionist Trilogy.

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