Now That You’re Here and
While You Were Gone
Amy K. Nichols
★★★½ and ★★★★
Knopf for Teens, 2014 and 2015.
I’ll admit it, I would never have picked these books up if I hadn’t been doing a story on Amy K. Nichols. Nothing against her, they just didn’t look like they were my bag, me not being teenage, or a girl.
That would have been my loss.
But in the course of interviewing Amy, I discovered that we went to the same high school and were actually in marching band together. And that gave me new insights into the novels, especially Now That You’re Here. The places immediately became more real, and some of the descriptions of Palo Brea High School sparked familiar memories. I know those poles that skaters would do tricks on and freshmen walked into. Did it myself a few times.
These two novels follow Danny and Eevee, a pair of high schoolers from Phoenix.
Or rather two pairs of high schoolers from two parallel Phoenixes. One is the familiar Phoenix I grew up in, with a few place names changed. The other is an oceanside police state under constant surveillance.
In Now That You’re Here, Danny, a graffiti artist in the police state is caught in a strange blast and wakes up in the body of this world’s Danny, a stoner sleeping through English class with Eevee. Lost and alone, he finds that in our world his parents are dead and his best friends are enemies. Eevee is the only person who shows any concern for him, bringing him to stay with her parents and eventually believing his strange story of where he came from. She then enlists a nerdy friend and an eccentric teacher to help figure out how to return Danny to his world, connecting his jump to our universe with a powerful electromagnetic pulse. Of course, by the time they have found the way to return him to his world, he and Eevee have fallen in love.
It is an intriguing premise — romance across parallel universes. And I think Amy handled it well in her debut. At some points the EMP and quantum theory became a little too science-ey, but not in the distracting way that Neal Stephenson did in his latest. And I cared enough about Eevee and Danny to enjoy the story, but it ultimately didn’t register much for me outside the enjoyable nostalgic references to growing up in Phoenix.
While You Were Gone, however…
I loved this book. It follows the events of Danny and Eevee in the police state and is a stronger novel in every way.
Danny the stoner wakes up in a hospital after the EMP blast that brought him to the other Phoenix, picked up by parents and reunited with a friend he didn’t know he had. Sure, the world is under constant surveillance, but he has people who love and care for him. And he keeps running into this mysterious girl who looks familiar but whom he doesn’t know.
Eevee. In the police state she is the daughter of Arizona’s governor. She is also a budding artist, although her portfolio works, which were intended to insure her admittance to a prestigious art school, were destroyed in the blast that brought Danny to her world.
Through different paths the pair are entangled in a web of resistance, finally meeting at an underground rave. Soon we’re meeting the parallel versions of other characters, events in the first novel where Danny would partially be sucked back to his world become clearer, eventually building to the same climactic scene that closes Now That You’re Here, albeit seen from the opposite perspective. It also answered the mysteries from the first novel.
The parallel structure is a clever way of building the sequel, but the biggest strength seems to be more in depth character development. Police-state Eevee is a less sympathetic character in some ways, but she is more fleshed out and grows far more than her real-world counterpart. The supporting cast in While You Were Gone is stronger as well, and the covert resistance plot was far more engaging. And the world-building, while not the strongest part of While You Were Gone, required more focus than the friendly confines of Now That You’re Here.
Now That You’re Here was a love story intermingled with quantum theory. While You Were Gone introduced politics and terrorism into the mix and the story blossomed as a result. But really the two stories are inseperable, like the quantum-crossed lovers at their heart.