J. Manoa is an emerging author in the growing, wildly popular genre of young adult dystopian fiction, and The One from Epic Press is his newly published six-part book series. (Full disclosure: “J. Manoa” is the pseudonym of fellow Pop Mythology contributor Jess Kroll, though I can assure you this review was written honestly, and the review copies were provided by the publisher with the understanding that this would be the case).
The One series is oriented around teenager Odin Lewis, who is finishing up the spring of his junior year in high school at the series’ start. Odin’s parents died in a tragic accident when he was very young and, although he cannot quite remember the details of what occurred, he knows that this is where the anomalies of his life began.
After the accident, Odin was adopted by a kind, if not entirely loving, family with an infant son. The first peculiarity he encountered was Wendell. When he first arrived at his new home, Odin discovered this imaginary playmate already living in his room, however he was reassured by his child psychologist that this was a perfectly normal reaction to his trauma. Odin was well cared for and eventually developed close relationships with his younger step-brother and step-father, but always remained partially estranged from his step-mother.
The imaginary phantom disappeared into Odin’s childhood but, as he nears adulthood, Wendell comes back. And now he is whispering insidious things into Odin’s mind, things that Odin finds all at once exciting, disturbing, and confusing: Odin is special. Odin has powers. Odin can be so much more. And as Wendell teaches Odin how to bend reality to will, Odin must decide what to believe and what to discard of the morality he has been taught.
The story line of The One is so rich and nuanced, it is difficult to resist the temptation to discuss the series in depth and reveal spoilers (the synopsis above does not contain anything that could be considered spoilers). But one of the delights of the series is the slow, creeping addition of science fiction elements during Book 1 (The Other Me) into the life of an otherwise ordinary teen. The timing is wonderfully suspenseful and has the reader immediately reaching for Book 2 (Talk to Me) at the close. We are drawn into an ever closer rapport with Odin as he learns about his reality and we suffer alongside him as his fate grows ever darker. The series ending (Activation) is quite literally apocalyptic and leaves the reader reeling.
The One is a wonderfully imagined tale that is every bit as engrossing as The Hunger Games or Divergent series. But The One has a thematic edge of sophistication – both in the science fictional conception and in the elements of conflict. The incorporation and fictional extensions of current theoretical physics related to quantum multiverses serves to both engage the adult reader and spark the curiosity of a younger one. At the core of the story are moral dilemmas and questions typical of the dystopian genre. But while some of the other popular series are mostly related to the fairly common teen themes of social stratification and exclusion, The One takes on the much more complex morality of power. In short, there is much the series has to recommend to a diverse audience across the age spectrum.
Finally, I would also like to make a slightly unusual suggestion for this series: it can and should be used as a late-middle school/early high school teaching tool. The books are well-formed and make for interesting discussions of plot planning and development, story endings and continuation from book to book, crisp sentence structure, etc. Overlaid with a discussion of the moral themes, The One series could make for a very interesting unit of an English class for an age group that is often very difficult to engage.[Editor’s note: J. Manoa is a pen name of Pop Mythology contributor Jess Kroll. The reviewer of The One, Andrea Sefler, and he have never met.]