Jumper by Steven Gould (1993) – I can’t believe I’ve actually read two good books in a row. I would probably give this one five stars if it had a real ending.
When I picked this one up, I thought, “This can’t be the book from that awful movie,” but it was. Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was a million times better. The author has two great things going for him – he is a seventeen year old runaway with a special ability and he pulls you in. When you open the book, you are suddenly and totally in this kid’s world, and at no time does Mr. Gould lose the kid’s voice. Amazing.
Books that make me have to shake my head to return to reality when I put them down are few and far between. I totally enjoy those kinds of tales. Unlike the movie, there’s no group of teleporters (in fact the hero wishes there were), no Samuel L. Jackson foaming at the mouth (his adversary is kind of a nice guy until he kidnaps the boy’s girlfriend), no mom in a secret organization (she’s a travel agent killed by a hijacker). There’s only a scared kid named Davy who is physically abused by his alcoholic dad, frightened out of his mind when he “jumps” to his neighborhood library for the first time to escape, runs away only to be almost molested by some truckers (the reason the book is banned from most high schools), runs to New York, and robs a bank. And that’s only the first couple chapters.
There’s no Professor X to teach him how to use his powers. There’s no Scully and Mulder trying to help him. There’s no adult to offer information and support. Everyone wants to mug him, tranquilize him, or beat him up. He’s a geeky kid who can teleport anywhere he’s been before. He can’t jump to Paris unless he’s actually been there. He does okay for himself, hiding the bank’s million dollars, buying himself a nice apartment and fancy clothes, and meeting the girl of his dreams from Oklahoma at a Sweeney Todd performance on Broadway.
I think the most appealing thing to me was the mundane struggles Davy slogs through as a lonely kid. He pops home to use his old bathroom. He locates his missing mother. He goes to a party in Oklahoma with his new girlfriend and jumps in a fit of rage while carrying her old boyfriend. He learns more and more about his abilities with each jump.
His world is destroyed when his mother is killed in Algiers and his girlfriend sees him jump and never wants to see him again. Revenge becomes his main goal as he travels to the Mideast to kill the man who killed his mother. He’s pretty clever and hires a news service to keep him informed of hijackings and visits lots of foreign airports. He pops into planes, grabs the bad guys, and dumps them in a water-filled pit in the desert near his lair. He has some close calls and is discovered by the NSA after saving a couple planeloads of tourists. NSA wants to know how he can do what he does (they have photos of him in the Mideast one minute and in the US the next) and try to kidnap him. He jumps.
His girlfriend, Millie, stunned by the brutal death of his mother, reconciles with some stipulations. He has to jump to the trauma ward in NYC whenever she says “bang” and he has to take her with him when he goes to his secret cave in the desert. NSA kidnaps the girlfriend to coerce Davy to work for them just as the hijacker who killed his mother hijacks a cruise ship.
Before he starts grabbing and dropping the bad guys, he snatches the NSA chief who took his girlfriend and drops him in the icy cold pit. He’ll let him go as soon as the guy releases Millie. Then, he gets shot (just a graze really), lets a passenger get killed, and finds he can’t murder the terrorist who killed his mother. He has discovered he can fall from great heights and teleport away just before he hits the ground so the bad guy has some close calls and probably needed to change his underwear.
The NSA guy agrees to let the girl go and the kid agrees to stop teleporting government agents to airports all over the world (with their guns and no passports).
He puts a bathroom in his desert Batcave for Millie and refuses to help the government kill anyone else. The end.
I hope Mr. Gould got a lot of money for the movie rights for this book. It would have been a great movie if they’d stuck with the written story of a poor kid who’s afraid he’ll end up like his father and has to struggle with the ramifications of his amazing gift. A truly great book.