College sophomore Wendy Whitley thought life was hard enough with caring for her fifteen-year-old brother Ezra, trying to make enough money to cover all the bills, and staying on top of her college courses. Having diabetes, an allergy to tree nuts, and the ability to sense emotions through skin contact didn’t even make her top ten worries list. When Wendy learns about a food allergy research study through mysterious Pneumatikon, it sounds like a dream come true. She thinks that life energy manipulation is a crock, but at $500 payment per session, what does she have to lose? However, when Wendy wakes up from a session with the frightening ability to kill people with her touch, she must decide how to protect those she loves most and learn how to control a new talent. As she explores more about her new skills and her own history, it seems more and more clear that her acceptance into Pneumatikon’s research study was no accident, and the reasons behind Wendy’s death touch may be more sinister than she can imagine.
When I was seventeen my parents re-wrote their wills, and I was faced with the important decision of whether or not I would become my younger siblings’ legal guardian if the unthinkable occurred, and we lost both parents. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) What does this have to do with Rachel E. Kelly’s Colorworld? I found Wendy’s mindset and thought patterns extremely easy to relate with overall. Her life is dominated by worry about her younger brother, guilt over her mother’s death from cancer the previous year, and concerns about how to make every dollar stretch as far as possible. She’s struggling with the realization that she recklessly charged into past situations expecting her mother to fix everything, but her parental safety net is suddenly gone. Wendy, known as “Wen” to friends (well, those she still has) and family (at this point Ezra), also uses her emotion-sensing ability as an excuse to create a wall around herself, so she has a scant support network outside of her younger brother, the same person she wants to protect. I could understand her wariness when a barely known uncle reaches out to offer help and her extreme panic when her “emodar” turns into something akin to Rogue’s abilities in The X-Men. Throughout the story, it becomes clear that Wen’s default behavior is self-sacrifice fueled by a desire to shield those she loves from danger and hardships. I probably identify a little too closely with her, although I’ve never dealt with any sort of extrasensory issues!
The supporting characters are also well fleshed out, although I didn’t self-identify as strongly with them. Kelly grasps the concept that the protagonists live in a world of actual individuals, and even the antagonists possess depths beyond mustache-twirling baddie. I particularly love the warm bond between Wen and Ezra, and the way they support each other through everything is very sweet. Gabriel, Wen’s love interest, strikes me as a rather exhausting man due to his intensity, stark honesty, and love of pushing buttons, but he also is willing to accept Wen’s boundaries and respects her needs. The remaining cast is similarly dynamic, including an innocuous-seeming mastermind, a not-just-a-pouty-little rich girl, and an uncle who holds a lot of the answers to Wen’s past.
Colorworld contains two interlinked plots: Wen’s development of a deadly ability and its ramifications and a love story between Wen and Gabriel. I loved the straight speculative fiction/super power angle of the plot, but the love story fell a little flat for me. My biggest problem with the Wen/Gabriel romance is the compressed time frame; he first sees Wendy at Pneumatikon after her death touch surfaces and instantly feels attracted to her and actively pursues Wen when they meet again. Admittedly, Wen’s emodar skills allow her to sense Gabriel’s feelings in Technicolor detail, but the concept of a new relationship progressing to engagement within three or four weeks creeps me out a little. (To be fair, Kelly does have Wen mention her discomfort with how fast things are going in the beginning.) I just don’t fully comprehend why Gabriel is so fixated on Wendy . . . which brings me to the age difference. The novel clearly states that Gabriel is twenty-seven years old while Wendy’s implied age is between eighteen and twenty. My jaded late thirties’ mind feels a little uncomfortable with a twenty-seven year old chasing a college girl and creates all types of unhealthy scenarios. At the same time, I can’t deny that Wen’s biggest need in the novel is human connection, which Gabriel provides. Even when they cannot touch skin to skin he supports her and provides stability when her world is rapidly changing.
I may be dissecting the romantic angle and hedging about the latter half of Colorworld’s plot, but I definitely think this is a book worth picking up. The idea of super powers through New Age healing techniques is incredibly unique, and I’m keen to see Wendy continue to grow. I’m eager to see where the other books in the series take me!
4.5 Mysterious Hidden Compounds out of 5