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Ripple Effect Review by Susan K. Marlow

By Paul McCusker
5300 Patterson Ave. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49530

A long history of strange disappearances leaves clues that the small town of Fawlt Line may be located on a "time fault"--a portal to an alternate reality. In Ripple Effect, a 204-page science fiction novel for teens, fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Forbes is sucked into such a portal. One minute she's relaxing in a warm bath at home, planning how she can escape her parents and run away. The next minute the bathtub appears full of muddy, churning water, and unseen hands are dragging her under. Elizabeth is sure she's drowning. She scrambles to escape this horrible vision, stumbles out of the bathtub, and turns to see the tub bone-dry. Was it only a dream?

Unfortunately for Elizabeth, it's no dream. She has just entered a world that seems familiar but is not. Everyone she meets calls her "Sarah," and she soon begins to accept that perhaps her former life was a dream, and this new reality is her true life. Maybe, like the doctors insist, she is a victim of a bizarre form of amnesia. Meanwhile, back in the real world, her friend Jeff is being questioned by the police about Elizabeth's sudden, inexplicable disappearance while her parents frantically search for their daughter. The plot thickens when an unconscious girl near death is discovered along the river. Is it Elizabeth? Or could it be Sarah from the alternate reality?

Ripple Effect is book one in the Time Thriller Trilogy. Forty-six short, tight chapters move at warp speed through this story of parallel universes and time travel. The story is told from two points of view, alternating between Elizabeth and her experiences in the alternate universe, and Jeff, her boyfriend back in the real world. This worked well and kept me from wondering what was going on back home, and if anyone was going to figure it all out. Luckily, Jeff's guardian and cousin, Malcolm, has reason to believe that he knows what has really happened to Elizabeth.

While the book's premise is a science-fiction "what if," the story goes deeper into personal relationships. Elizabeth must come to grips with her selfishness and her foolish notion of running away. She must also juggle multiple, confusing relationships in the alternate universe and try to discern the truth from lies. Using short chapters, tight writing, and cliff-hangers, the author pulls the reader along at breath-taking speed. Never once was I bogged down with too much teen angst or unnecessary details.

God's overall sovereignty and the idea of the "bigger picture" or eternal perspective is touched on, but never developed in Ripple Effect. The main character, Elizabeth, struggles in her own relationship with God. Jeff, the other main character, is a great teen and a good role model, but the reader never learns where he stands with God. A form of hypnotism is used to send Jeff to the alternate universe to rescue Elizabeth, but it is barely mentioned in passing.

While there is no strong Christian message, the novel is a fun read and will appeal to science-fiction lovers. Parts of the book gave me pause and caused me to dwell on the "unseen" and the idea of other dimensions. It's clean, wholesome entertainment for teens, especially for teen girls. Even if they aren't drawn to the usually male-dominated science-fiction themes, there are enough relationships, boyfriends, and best friends in Ripple Effect to keep them reading.

Product review by Susan K. Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December, 2008