I wasn’t sure how Kasie West could follow up Pivot Point. The dual, parallel narrative structure of the first novel was neat, but I didn’t think it would be as interesting a second time. Fortunately, West approaches the story differently. This time the narrative is split between Addie and Laila.
Since I found Laila an interesting character in the first book, I welcomed the opportunity to get inside her head and learn more about her life. It isn’t all that pretty. I find it interesting that as much as West positions the Compound as this controlling, nefarious entity, it isn’t all that effective at eliminating people like Laila’s dad—people who aren’t criminal but who so clearly need more help. With a better idea of Laila’s home life, her outgoing and larger-than-life personality takes on a new dimension and a new meaning. And I loved watching her interactions with Eli, particularly when they take him along on the rescue mission to Dallas. (The last third of this book is just badass.)
Meanwhile, Addie is dealing with the changes her powers seem to be undergoing. Her Divergence has expanded into a full-blown case of Time Manipulation. West subtly allows this to evolve over the course of the book. Whereas Addie’s power was at the forefront of Pivot Point, in Split Second it is simply another part of her. She uses her newfound time manipulation to her advantage, and she also Searches a few times—but it’s just not as big a deal. Similarly, while there is plenty of boy and personal drama (for both Addie and Laila) in this book, the sinister nature of the Compound is a much bigger focus now. It seems that the Compound doesn’t have the best interests of the individual in mind, and they will go to ridiculous lengths to protect Paranormal society.
Seriously, the whole test that they put Addie through? Ridiculous. All that expense for a single girl, even one they’ve flagged? And the Compound’s solution for Trevor learning of their existence is to give him a new life on the East Coast? The United States is a small place these days—what if someone recognizes him? Or do they plan to Erase the memories of everyone who knows Trevor? That seems like a lot of work, a lot of resources. It would be simpler just to kill him.
It would be simpler to kill most of these malcontents, no?
This bizarre non-lethality, coupled with its cumbersome tactics, hinders the Compound from feeling like a truly formidable adversary. Addie and Laila are great and all, but they aren’t exactly a crack squad of dissidents. You trying to tell me that a ragtag team of kids took down your highly-trained team of Compound agents? Please.
I appreciate the way that West gradually draws back the curtain on the Compound’s misdeeds. I love the setting and the idea of the Compound as this Big Bad, mad party of scientists obsessed with perfecting humanity. Nevertheless, what we’ve seen of them so far is just … not that impressive.
Fortunately, the personal drama helps distract from the messy but unfulfilling shenanigans. Addie meets Trevor again! But he totally doesn’t remember her! And she doesn’t quite remember him! And she doesn’t remember Stephanie! So she becomes norm-besties with Stephanie! And then Laila helps her remember Trevor! So she puts the moves on him—smmooooooth! They go to the formal in a big group, and she totally—
Suffice it to say, the reader can definitely understand what Addie means when she talks about how both paths she Searches are real to her, even the rejected one. The future where she’s with Trevor never happened, but it feels real to us (and to her, once she gets that memory back). We know stuff about Trevor that Addie doesn’t know at first, which is fun—plus the whole Stephanie thing, which is an even richer source of irony. On a more serious level, though, West makes a fine point about how context and chance can influence people’s impressions of us. In one context and through certain chance events, Stephanie sees Addie immediately as a rival and never gets to know her as a friend. In another context, Stephanie and Addie become friends—enough so that when Addie starts mulling over the possibility of getting together with Trevor, she feels really bad about it. She knows she is betraying Stephanie. This idea that a person might have disliked you, or might have liked you, if circumstances had just been a little bit different … it’s one of the best parts of alternative history plots, and West plays with it to great effect here.
I should also add that my criticisms are almost entirely in hindsight. The bumbling nature of the Compound never pulled me out of the story or ruined my enjoyment. As I said earlier, the last part of this book is badass. Duke is a douche, everything is going to hell, and Laila and Addie pretty much have to save the day. But it’s a fly-by-wire operation that might not fully succeed, and the stakes are pretty intense. I thought Pivot Point had a nail-biting conclusion, but Split Second manages to top even that.
West leaves us in a good spot this time. She kind of wraps up this story arc in such a way that if there weren’t any more Pivot Point novels, I would be OK with that. Yet there is still so much more to see. Without verging too far into spoilers, I’ll just add that I like Laila’s offhand observation that there’s more than one way to defy the Compound—from without and from within. There’s so much potential here to keep telling these stories about paranormal teens who might be more responsible with their powers than the people raising them. With this sequel, West shows she can keep changing things up while retaining the core that makes the characters and the setting fascinating. It seems like this is it for Addie and Laila. I can only hope that means we’ll see newer, even cooler novels from West in the future.