If I had to summarize this book in only a few sentences I’d have to say; A relatively normal kid named Will starts experiencing weird things and is soon attacked by unearthly monsters he can’t even see, and now he has to try and fight back. In a turn of events one might call a “long story” Will ends up in a different state and at a professional boarding school, where he discovers something bigger than just himself and his abilities.
I give this book five stars (out of five). I really, really like this book. I personally find the main characters very funny and loved reading this trilogy twice! This is the first book in a series of three books, each going deeper and deeper into Will West’s story.
Here’s a slightly longer and more explanatory summary of the plot, this will include spoiler warnings before revealing anything too important.
Will West is your typical high school student… except he has a few odd abilities and he’s been living a weird life. Ever since forever Will’s parents have enforced strange rules and patterns, they move from place to place around the US every few years and Will is instructed to never draw attention to himself and trust nobody. Ever since Will was little he’s had some out of the ordinary powers but he hardly ever uses them, he can send other people thoughts and images telepathically and he has very enhanced speed.
However, things start shaking up his somewhat normal life. One morning Will gets mysterious texts from his Dad while on his morning run and a weird black car is dangerously following him. Then at school he gets pulled out of class, a lady is there to talk to him and apparently Will got one of the highest scores on a nationwide test. She was there to talk to him about potentially getting a scholarship for a very fancy and high tech boarding school. She explains what this would mean and gives him information on the school, but things keep getting weirder when Will’s mom is called in and she gets excited instead of mad at him for drawing attention to himself.
As his ‘Mom’ takes him home Will gets increasingly suspicious and confused, he knows something is wrong and that is not his mother. So he decides to try and escape the situation by going for another run but unfortunately that makes things worse. While on the run Will is attacked by invisible supernatural monsters, Will is forced to run away and do everything he can to avoid these things. When it starts looking bad for Will he is suddenly rescued by a mysterious man in a Prowler, Will has no idea who this guy is but he’s thankful for the help and confused as to what’s going on. When Will goes back home he can tell everything is wrong even more clearly than before and he even recieves a panicked video from his Dad telling Will to run, be careful who he trusts and stay alive.
Will gets out of there as quickly as possible. He calls up the lady from that school called the Center and asks if he can start the next day, she’s surprised but she ultimately says yes. Will gets a taxi and heads to the airport as fast as possible but the Black Caps (guys in the black cars that have been following him around) chase him there. To get out of the dire situation Will is forced to use his powers, first to get through security and then to mislead the people following him, by making them think he went somewhere else.
But that’s not even the end of the action because Will is attacked by more monsters on the plane. He’s okay though because that guy from before swopes in again and saves Will, he also makes himself known as Dave and gives Will a pair of special dark glasses that let him see the monsters he couldn’t see before. After his flight he gets picked up by people from the school and driven to the Center.
Once there he’s introduced to Brooke, who gives him a quick tour of the grounds and takes him to the dorms. There he has his first encounter with Lyle Ogilvy, Lyle takes every opportunity to exercise his control of the situation while searching Will’s bag but Will holds his ground. They get into some sort of mental battle, it’s clear Lyle has some type of ability too and he tries to use it to control Will but he resists. In the end they both walk away unhappy but Will manages to keep an untraceable phone with him that he wouldn’t be allowed to have. Will is introduced to his pod and roommates Brooke, Nick, Ajay and Elise and they all seem nice enough. They help him get used to the Center, take him shopping, show him around campus, etc.
Before I go forward with the rest of this summary here’s some information on these new characters:
Brooke is very pretty and smart, her parents are alumni to the Center so she always knew she was going there. She’s nice and the most open to Will right away.
Nick is a total idiot, the character that is so dumb it’s meant to be funny, and he’s there on an athletic scholarship for gymnastics.
Ajay is close to the opposite of Nick, he’s the smartest character (similar to Hermione Granger) and he’s always working on one thing or another. He has about a million original inventions and is always making adjustments to school provided tech.
Elise is very smart and she loves horseback riding, she’s also at the school on scholarship. She’s one of the more interesting characters in the entire story.
Will also learns that the roommate who’s place he’s taking (Ronnie) died mysteriously over the summer and Will gets a few medical tests done by doctors at the Center.
[Slight spoilers ahead, skip to the My Comments section to avoid them.]
While preparing to race against the Track team filled with Lyle and his friends Will sees something weird that he definitely wasn’t meant to see. A group of people in a hidden room off of the Boys locker room, with masks on and some type of a portal open. Dave is with Will and he explains what’s going on. There’s another world called the Never-Was, that’s where the monsters come from.
Later on Will starts learning more about the people that chased him back home and what they’re doing now, about the company that administered the test and he even gets his old taxi driver Nando to investigate his house. He also starts telling his roommates about what happened to him, that he thinks something weird is going on and it’s connected to the Center. Will also learns even more about and from Dave, he isn’t dead but he isn’t alive. Dave is a Wayfarer and Will is in quite a lot of danger since the monsters keep trying to kill him and people seem to be helping as well, Dave is like Will’s guardian angel. Will also meets Coach Jericho, the track team’s coach, who is very spiritual and intelligent.
With the help of Nick and Ajay Will goes back to the hidden room to look for more clues, they find the masks and a weird list of names but aren’t entirely sure what they mean. Their opportunity to figure it out is cut short because they are found, followed and nearly attacked by someone in disguise but still clearly dangerous. They end up escaping through a hidden secret tunnel they found, but they end up on the island in the middle of the on campus lake which is private property. But at least now they have more information and clues and they get even more by finding a secret flash drive Ronnie left behind. Turns out he had discovered what was going on before he disappeared and left hints for his roommates to find. Will is also able to convince everyone else of the monsters being real when a video call from Nando shows them in plain sight.
Will is getting more follow-up medical tests but things don’t go exactly to plan when he’s attacked yet again, this time by monsters and Lyle but he manages to use his mind powers and Dave’s help to get out of it. Will also finally brings word of the Knights (the secret group of students with the masks, they found out that group is called the Knights of Charlemagne) to the attention of some of the trusted staff at the school, who take it very seriously.
[Spoiler warning, skip to the My Comments section to avoid them.]
In the climax, Brooke was kidnapped and used against Will and the others to get them to do what the Knights wanted. They want Will to go to the barn on campus alone and get captured by the guys while they hold Brooke somewhere else, but that is not what happens.
Nick and Will switch places, Nick pretends to be Will and gets into an intense fight with many Knights. But he gets the best of most of them, until a literal statue comes to life and starts chasing him. It gets weirder when Nick is nearly defeated and a bear comes out of nowhere and saves him at the last second, and even weirder when as he’s passing out an octopus/squid-looking-thing with tentacles picks up the phone for him to call for help. Nick’s side of the story is weird, intense and confusing since random animal-like creatures just appear and help him.
While Will goes to where they guessed they were holding Brooke and Elise and Ajay help from a distance. Elise saves Will from being discovered and captured by using a power she didn’t even know she had, sound. Using only her voice she causes a large explosion, in the end Lyle runs off and Will follows him but is also chased and shot at by the other Knights. He follows Lyle into caves near the school, but Lyle pulls out a Carver (the tool used to make portals in between Earth and the Never-Was) and opens a portal. He brings over a Wendigo meant to kill Will, but instead it targets Lyle without any hesitation. Dave appears again to help Will but while he fights to get the Wendigo back into the Never-Was he gets pulled in too.
Next thing we know it’s a while later with all the roommates in different stages of recovery and being questioned. Lyle was taken to the Medical Center but wasn’t looking good. They manage to all keep their stories straight for the most part and things nearly go back to normal. Elsie and Will also discover they are able to communicate using telepathy. Except both of Will’s parents just ‘died in a plane crash’ on their way to visit him at the Center and some of the men who chased Will are back to try and get to him again.
However, this book doesn’t end with Will in devastation but with him presenting a new idea about how they all got these abilities. In vitro genetic manipulation that gave them powers and then whoever did the experiment tracked the kids and brought them to the Center to see if it worked. That along with Will finding out that his father’s real name is Hugh Greenwood, making him the son of one of the founders of the Center and Will related to all of this in some weird way, are the actual end of the book.
For anyone who cares here is a more in depth explanation of the lore and story surrounding Dave:
I already explained the Never-Was but the basic idea behind it is that long before humans ever existed another race inhabited Earth, not ancestors of humans a whole separate species. They got so ambitious that they nearly destroyed the planet, so the people Dave works for called the Hierarchy banished them into the Never-Was, a whole other realm. Now these beings are trying to get back to Earth and take over the planet by using humans (the Knights) to get what they want. And just to clarify the monsters coming to Earth and attacking Will are not this other species but creations of them, because as you might have been able to guess by now they like experimenting with genetics.
The Hierarchy is filled with beings like Dave not quite alive but still present. They exist on a level high above humans and work towards good for everyone, which is why they’re fighting against the beings in the Never-Was, known as the Other Team. Earlier on in the story they’re talking and Will asks Dave why the Other Team would want anything to do with Will specifically. Sure he has those abilities but so do other people at the Center who aren’t nearly getting killed for it, turns out it’s because Will is a member of the Hierarchy, called an Initiate. That’s also the reason that he’s been given the clearance to know all this information, the Other Team knows that Will is strong and if he gets taken and trained by the Hierarchy it wouldn’t be good for them. This makes sense as throughout the book you can tell that the people working against Will’s goal went from killing him to capturing him and getting him on their side presumably once they saw what he could do. As of this point in the series that’s all we know.
This entire book is filled with great descriptions, that are easy to visualize, and an amazing sense of humour. I might caution a guess at what the author’s sense of humour is like since lots of the characters talk in the same hilarious way, with subtle and even obnoxious comebacks and remarks. I was surprised at many times by Will’s witty communication skills and random lines from many different characters, which caught me off guard but made me laugh nonetheless.
Although this is a small detail, I also noticed and really liked the chapter titles because they’re very honest and simple, just a few words about what happens within that chapter.
There’s very, very good foreshadowing in this book. I’m not going to spoil the plot twists or what happens later on in the series, but it is evident when looking back at this first book that the author clearly knew where he wanted to take the story and characters before he even published the first book. All the best series have foreshadowing and clues hidden right from the beginning so it’s obvious that they tell one cohesive story, this is a great example of that. I can not emphasize enough how much this makes a difference and even I was surprised by clues I didn’t notice from the start.
There’s something called Syn-apps that were really cool, as well as lots of the technology and inventions throughout this series. I didn’t really explain them in the summary, but syn-apps are like little versions of you that live inside the student’s tablets. But they’re smaller and electronic You’s so they act and sound exactly like you and act as a more advanced Siri with a lot more capabilities. These types of technological advancements are super interesting as well as seeing how people like Will interacted with them, especially the syn-apps because they’re kind of creepy.
I loved Dave’s character and just the sheer randomness of everything surrounding him is amazing enough to have to it point out. In the beginning nearly everything about him is out of place with the rest of the story and he just sort of shows up. I found his sense of humour, the way he talked and introduced new information and ideas to Will throughout the book to be quite entertaining. It was a great plot device to have Dave pop in every now and then and only be present for Will, he helped Will out of trouble many times and it was a good way to build tension not knowing if Dave would help him or not. Also all the times that Will was out of luck and just desperately hoped that Dave would appear made even the climatic action scenes funny.
Similarly to how much I liked Dave I also really liked Nando the Taxi driver, he’s seemingly just a random background character whose only purpose is to help Will. But in reality he’s so much more than that, he’s the funniest character in the book. And that’s saying something considering he was going against Dave and Nick. I loved the way he talked, how willing he was to help a random stranger off the street and that even after getting attacked by some monsters he was just like ‘Yeah, that seems normal.” and continued cab driving.
I honestly wished we would’ve seen more of him or at least that Will talked to him again after this book. It’s too bad he was only ever a background character because he was so funny and random, he really kept me engaged and interested in the book. Not that the plot didn’t already do that, but he’s too funny to stop reading what he’s saying.
I will never get enough of Dad’s Rules to Live By, Will’s dad created a list of rules for him to always follow and he uses them throughout the series. I personally think that how Will has all of them memorized and inserts it into the story whenever something comes up, shows how important they were to him. The Rules are in part because of the bad circumstances of Will’s situation but also because his Dad really cares about him and wants him to be safe at all times.
The Rules aren’t worthless either, Will uses them many, many times throughout the books and effectively too. Whenever something is going wrong, seems amiss or he needs guidance one of the Rules usually pops into his head. I also really liked that the full list of Rules 1-100 were included at the back of the book so we could actually read all of them instead of just random ones whenever they come up in the story.
The last and maybe even most important addition to Dad’s list of rules is Open All Doors and Awaken, which seems very cryptid at first but when you look at the story and what it means to be Awake within that context then it kind of makes sense. The whole concept of being Awake is interesting to begin with, specifically with these kids and how they discover things they didn’t initially think they could do. But it’s even more literal when people get messages and important warnings or information in the form of dreams.
However, I think Will’s Dad meant or was trying to tell Will to open his mind and let down some of his barriers so that he would be able to become fully Awake and explore his potential even if it made him stand out. Even when Will and his Dad are separated Will uses the Rules to help center himself and finally become Awake.
The characters were all really good and well written, as I think is clear from my five star review I love the main characters. Will, Ajay, Nick, Elise and Brooke seem totally themselves, unique, individual and realistic.
Personally I have to point out the love triangle between Will, Brooke and Elise. I wouldn’t spoil who ends up with who or anything like that, but I will say it does not go like I expected at all. When I read this the first time I liked Will with Brooke better but this read though I was leaning more towards Elise, if you’ve read the book what do you think of this love triangle?
I also want to mention Lyle Ogilvy, he’s that Draco Malfoy-esc character that most stories need and he plays the part well. I hated him as the readers and the main characters were supposed to, even after knowing his full story I still couldn’t like or really empathize with his character. I also don’t like his name, no offence to anyone named Lyle.
Overall I loved this book. I’ve already read it twice and I still love the story, the characters and all the twists in the series. I think this one sets up the other two books perfectly and is a great base for the series. To me this is a 10/10 and I would read again.