By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I put this series in my massive TBR queue a long, long time ago, when Sarah Wendell mentioned it on a DBSA podcast. I finally got around to starting the books on Sunday night, as my vacation was in its final hours. Today, Tuesday morning, I have finished books one and two and started book three, so I'll give Meg Cabot props for grabbing my attention.
Protagonist Jess is a high school sophomore who just wants a normal life, but she isn't normal: she has an anger management problem that keeps landing her in detention, a schizophrenic older brother who hears voices directing him to kill himself, and a mom who likes to make Jess wear home-made, matching mother-daughter "Little House on the Prairie" dresses. -And all of this before Jess gets struck by lightning and develops the ability to look at a picture of a missing person (like the kids on milk cartons), and when she wakes in the morning, she knows exactly where they are.
The story moves right along as Jess discovers her "gift" and quickly discovers its drawbacks. First, not all who are missing want to be found, which she learns when she accidentally turns in a milk carton kid who was actually on the run from an abusive father. Second, she wakes up in the morning knowing a person's location, but she doesn't necessarily know whether that location will turn up a living person or a body. Third, when word gets out of her skills, the media descends, and all of the hoopla drives her schizophrenic brother into having an episode that lands him back in the hospital (and of course Jess blames herself). Finally, the US Government wants Jess to use her powers to locate dangerous criminals and terrorists, and they don't necessarily mean to give Jess a choice in the matter.
On top of all this, there is a mild romantic element: Jess has a crush on Rob, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He is entirely inappropriate: a 'Grit' to Jess's 'Townie', two years older and on probation for an unspecified crime, and determined not to get involved with Jailbait Jess. But he proves himself very good to have around in a crisis.
One pet peeve I have to mention: When reading contemporary books written for and about high school girls, there's a superficiality and casual slangyness that one just has to expect, and that's fine. What isn't fine is the characters' use of 'gay' and 'retarded' to mean 'uncool.' Jess's best friend refers to Jess's prairie dresses as "gay outfits." To her credit, Jess immediately corrects her, pointing out that most gay people actually have very good fashion sense. However, a few pages later Jess herself describes school discipline as "kind of retarded" -- apparently without any sensitivity to the inappropriateness of that description, which is especially rich since the very reason she's in detention so often is that she gets into fights when anyone calls her older brother a retard.
Oh, and one other annoyance: Cabot's grammar sometimes sucks. The whole book is littered with sentence fragments and atrocious statements such as "It [my scar] hadn't faded hardly at all." I found this an entertaining read, but I had to take off my Grammar Police badge to do it. (I really do have a badge: see?)