The Field (Catalyst #1)
The Field was published on April 23rd, 2019 by Brown Books Publishing as young adult science fiction. I received an ebook copy as a participant in the blog tour for the follow up novel Catalyst, but as always, all thoughts are my own.
There is a slight spoiler about Renee and Eric’s relationships, but other than that there are no spoilers in my review beyond what is told in the synopsis.
Content Warning: sexual assault, a scene containing subtle body shaming
Eric Horton sees fire. When he sleeps, he dreams of a world screaming in the midst of devastating explosions. These dreams terrify him, and as more strange happenings unfold around him, he’s unable to shake the feeling that what he’s seeing isn’t just a dream.
When a new student, Renee, appears in his science class, he could swear he’s known her forever. But how could that be? As they get to know each other, he meets her father, who explains the experiments he’s been conducting involving the Universal Energy Field and Collective Consciousness—two things Eric has never heard of before. They seem to be tied to the idea that we are all connected by the same energy and are all more powerful than we realize. Eric begins to learn more about these groundbreaking concepts—but can they be real?
As his life continues to shift and his knowledge of the Field increases, Eric will be tested beyond anything he’s experienced before. He must decide whether he believes in that part of himself which ties him to the world around him, and he must access it—or lose everything he’s been working to keep.
This book is as much about soccer and – based on my own experiences – American teenager life as it is about physics and energy. The book opens with Eric and his friend Will going to the last soccer tryout practice, and subsequent practices and games carry the book along in a satisfying way. Tracy Richardson balanced each aspect of the story quite well, and although a few scenes and paragraphs felt unnecessary (grossly and generally), this young adult novel is nearly seamlessly paced and developed.
Eric and his friends are moving through all the motions of being teenagers in high school, and to uphold the plot (and, presumably, to hold the attention of her readers), Tracy Richardson focused on one high school class in particular: AP Environmental Science. This sets an interesting tone for the novel, as the students learn about clean energy and the ways industries in their very own town of Monroe, Indiana are working to use more clean energy. There are a couple of – in the sense of a fictional narrative – quick debates about whether or not those industries are doing enough or what infrastructure should actually be put into place; I mention this because although my description feels a little bogged down, Tracy Richardson manages to make these discussions and themes pleasantly fit into the overall plot and arc of the book. Her tone is steady as she moves the characters from these classroom discussions to conversations about school events and parties, which never makes her characters feel, well, out of character.
Speaking of which, Tracy Richardson did a great job making these characters, especially Eric, individually identifiable. She rarely stepped over the line into caricature or used unnecessary conflict/tension, but there were a couple instances of this. When we first meet Eric’s friend Cole, he felt quite exaggerated, like all of his traits were items on a checklist that the author wanted to include. However, in every other encounter with him that exaggeration was diminished and he no longer seemed like a caricature. One other over the top, and unnecessary sequence of events was how Renee ends up confessing her attraction to Eric. The students learn about the psychology of attractiveness in their psychology class, which leads them down quite a superficial road to playing “hot or not” – voicing their opinions on which body types or clothing styles are hot or not (so much so that it started to feel like the author herself has an aversion to some of the shapes and styles). As characteristic of some teenagers that behavior might be, it just felt like a cringey way to set up Renee and Eric’s romantic relationship.
With these things taking place at the beginning, the story moves forward as the students and even some of their families navigate the every day, while many of them, particularly Eric, are also trying to wrap their heads around the Universal Energy Field and Collective Consciousness. The events and actions in the story that connect to these two puzzle pieces are, even before we are explicitly introduced to them, sort of obvious because of the information in the synopsis. For the most part, this only means that the reader has slightly more insight than the characters, so the anticipation over whether or not the characters will come to the correct conclusions heightens the thrill of the plot. However, this also makes two final events a bit predictable. Eric saves the day twice over, and questions how he is going to handle the responsibility that he now feels on his shoulders. But this question would perhaps feel more substantial, more complicated, if he was a little too late in making that second save. The slightly neater conclusion sort of depleted the stakes and threat of irreversible consequences, which deflated the mystical quality of the story to some extent. Perhaps the stakes and consequences will be further explored and built up over the course of the second novel in this series.
Despite this subtle deflation, The Field presents relatively accessible and straightforward theories about how energy exists in the universe and on Earth, alongside a captivating story about teen love, relationships, and dealing with the bigger picture while focusing on each moment as it happens.