Review: 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil

9 August, 2013 Reviews 23 comments

I received this book for free from Young Adult Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil3:59 by Gretchen McNeil
Series: Standalone
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 17th 2013
Pages: 368
Genres: Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Format: ARC
Source: Young Adult Books Central
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

Josie Byrne's life is spiraling out of control. Her parents are divorcing, her boyfriend Nick has grown distant, and her physics teacher has it in for her. When she's betrayed by the two people she trusts most, Josie thinks things can't get worse.

Until she starts having dreams about a girl named Jo. Every night at the same time—3:59 a.m.

Jo's life is everything Josie wants: she's popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her. It all seems real, but they're just dreams, right? Josie thinks so, until she wakes one night to a shadowy image of herself in the bedroom mirror – Jo.

Josie and Jo realize that they are doppelgängers living in parallel universes that overlap every twelve hours at exactly 3:59. Fascinated by Jo's perfect world, Josie jumps at the chance to jump through the portal and switch places for a day.

But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo's boyfriend, he hates her. Jo's mom is missing, possibly insane. And at night, shadowy creatures feed on human flesh.

By the end of the day, Josie is desperate to return to her own life. But there’s a problem: Jo has sealed the portal, trapping Josie in this dangerous world. Can she figure out a way home before it’s too late?

From master of suspense Gretchen McNeil comes a riveting and deliciously eerie story about the lives we wish we had – and how they just might kill you.

One of the biggest reasons for me wanting to read 3:59 was because it took place in a location very familiar to me. Like many other readers, when I hear about a book that’s set in my state or near my hometown, I feel this incessant need to read it by any means necessary. Unfortunately, 3:59 proved to be one big fat disappointment.

The book follows science wiz Josie Bryne who starts having dreams at 3:59 of a girl who looks just like her. As her own life begins to fall apart around her (she finds her boyfriend and best friend sleeping together, her parents divorce and she loses her job), she desperately wants the life she catches glimpses of when she sleeps. The girl Jo seems to have everything Josie wants: A perfect boyfriend, happily married parents and a perfect life. But when she finally gets the opportunity to cross over to Jo’s world, she learns things are far from perfect.

This sounded like such an interesting concept with it being pitched as Parent Trap meets Event Horizon. I don’t even know what Event Horizon is (Okay, so Kat says it’s a really scary horror movie. 3:59 is neither of those things.), but Parent Trap (the one with Lindsay Lohan before her life took a decided turn for the worse) is one of my all-time favorite movies. Throw in some sci-fi alternate universe action and I’m totally there. Sadly, 3:59 bares no resemblance to Parent Trap at all and I really need for Harper to stop this whole “Awesome movie/book/concept” meets “Even more Awesome movie/book/concept” thing that they do. Frankly, they are usually so far off and misleading. It’s like they’re overcompensating for their novels. And let me tell you, there was some serious overcompensating going on for 3:59.

The Writing Style:

So I took 3:59 with me one afternoon while I journeyed on the metro to my favorite children’s book store. I read exactly 5 pages and had a sinking suspicion that this book was not going to be my thang. The writing style immediately had a very choppy weird feeling that never felt natural or smooth even as the novel progressed. There were inner monologues from the narrator found in between each section of dialogue, making the exchange seem very long. Someone would say something to Josie and then there’d be a paragraph monologue about what she was thinking or a bit of info-dumping. I couldn’t help but to wonder what Josie would be doing in these time spans instead of answering the character’s question. Was she staring at them while her brain worked to keep up with her mouth? Perhaps.

Flat Characters:

I don’t think there is a single character in this book that I liked or saw growth from. Everyone remained exactly the same from beginning to end. The narrator tells us that Josie had changed, that she was smarter and stronger, but I never got a sense of any of that. Each character had one trait that they encompassed and that’s basically what they were for the entire novel.

The Plot:

3:59 relies heavily on science to explain why things are the way they are. It’s supposed to be clearly logical. Josie and her friend, Penelope, are supposed to appear smart. And I do appreciate McNeil having intelligent female protagonists solving the mystery. My problem was that since the science behind the book was so very complex, I had an extremely hard time seeing a high school student (or several of them!) knowing that much at such a young age. Is everyone a physics prodigy and able to keep up with all those formulas? Josie just happens to know more physics than her teachers?

But, okay. Maybe I could get behind this idea if all the science jargon didn’t create so many opportunities to info dump. Let’s be honest, hardly any readers will know what Josie knows. So whenever Josie and Penelope went off of their science talk, there was conveniently another character in the room asking for the For Dummies version. Look, I am not the kind of reader who is easily impressed with an author’s ability to recite Big Science Words. So I need to be able to see some type of explanation, and I never really got that. Instead, I got more questions: Where did the mirror in Jo’s room come from despite Josie never having one in her room until she moved it there? Why did Josie only start having the dreams recently even though the connection to both worlds had been open for 6 months?

Then we move on to the actual logical fails 3:59 was filled with. There’s this part in the book where Josie and Nick go on a tour of Fort Meade (a highly guarded military facility that houses different government divisions like NSA) where they are given a tour by one of the Directors. Somehow, Josie convinces the Director (because he’s attracted to her) to give them a tour of a floor they have no business being on. Somehow, conveniently the halls are deserted. That is so inaccurate, I can’t even. Then she conveniently leaves her purse on that floor in the bathroom only to later bat her eyelashes at the Director for his access card so she can retrieve it alone. I understand that this is fiction, but Josie was given way too many free passes in this novel. I don’t care if she batted her eyelashes so hard that her eyes got stuck in a permanent twitch, there is no way someone is handing over their security badge at the Fort. And there is no way she would make it back up to that same off-limits floor with no one stopping her. You can’t just walk around the Fort unescorted. It doesn’t happen for security reasons. Where was the research done here?

But I get it. Sometimes you just have to go with it when it comes to some books (hard as that is for me most times). This book was supposed to be built around scientific logic, so I expected basic common sense rules to be applied in other aspects as well. Clearly, I was asking too much because later in the book, Josie just thinks to ask her father (in the alternate universe) to steal a government laser from Fort Meade. The exchange went ridiculously something like this:

“Hey, daddy? Can you steal that government laser for the highly guarded military facility? I need it. I love you so much! xoxoxo!”

“Anything for you, princess! Shall I pick you up some Burger King on the way out the Fort?”

Are you kidding? For Josie to be so smart, I am actually surprised she thought this was legit a possibility even after her real mother specifically told her to trust no one.

Then, right after a character is brutally eaten to death by the nox (creatures that haunt the alternate universe and eat people) right in front of Josie and Nick, these fools start making out right there. Things get hot and heavy, Josie has a moment when she realizes she’s in love and she reaches up and grabs the dude’s severed ankle.

“OMG, I freakin’ love this guy I’m making out with!”

“This is so hot.”

“Oh, shit. Is that a foot? Gah! How did this body get here?!”

“Oh, right. He just died.”

Gag me, please.

It was there 3:59 and I had a strange turn of events. The book went from giving me a lot of these moments:

 photo deepsigh_zps3d2fa354.jpg

To where I could barely suppress a laugh:

 photo laughing_zpsaca3776e.gif

Honestly, though, I was still being entertained… just not in the way the author probably intended it.


So as if this couldn’t get any worse, this happens:

She’d never felt this way with her ex-boyfriend. This was something different. Something deeper. Even though they had only known each other a few days, Nick knew her better than anyone else, and loved her even more because of it. – Quoted from 3:59 ARC, page 348.

Sure, sure. She’s in love with this guy even though they’ve had maybe a handful of conversations (all of them related to the plot and had nothing to do with actually finding out things about each other), one of which was sparked by him pointing a gun at her. Boyfriend of the year!

I never once felt the connection between the two. They were these character stuck in this situation and randomly, romance was thrown in because, hey, every YA book has to have its romance. (Obviously, that was sarcasm.) But in the end, the romance didn’t add anything extra to the reading experience and felt contrived and forced.


However, I might have even forgiven all of that if only the entire mystery hadn’t been so predictable. I know 3:59 is being pitched as a sci-fi thriller, but I never once felt the urgency because things were so painfully obvious. I knew who the bad guy was, what happened to her parents, who was attacking the humans, etc. Josie is depicted as a really smart protagonist, but again, spouting off science words is not enough if the reader is two steps ahead of your detective. The really sad part is that the mystery wasn’t bad at all, but really lacked better foreshadowing and a much tighter plot. If I’ve already figured out the mystery by 50%, there’s really no reason for me to stick around.

Not only was the plot predictable, but the character actions. And this is where I feel good old fashion character growth would have helped. Josie, as trusting and sweet as she was depicted, was, frankly, TSTL. I don’t think this was intentional, but when you keep telling the reader how smart your character is, but they continually do really dumb things, it rarely works for me.

To Conclude:

In the end, 3:59 didn’t live up to my expectations. Had the plot and mystery been tighter, the characters better developed and the romance cleaned up, I would have probably really loved this one. Would I recommend this? My first reaction is, “Eh, no.” But I do think if the above doesn’t bother you much in novels, you may enjoy this one. I would, instead, strongly recommend checking out a sample to see if the writing style works for you and then abandoning all sense of logic at page one.

1 star because it’s not the worst book I’ve read

.5 star for somehow keeping me entertained despite my frustrations


ARC was received from the publisher via Young Adult Books Central.

Steph Sinclair

Steph Sinclair

Co-blogger at Cuddlebuggery
I'm a bibliophile trying to make it through my never-ending To-Be-Read list, equal opportunity snarker, fangirl and co-blogger here at Cuddlebuggery. Find me on GoodReads.

23 Responses to “Review: 3:59 by Gretchen McNeil”

  1. alexiareads

    Okay so I’m a little bummed that this book turned out to be a dud. I’ve been craving this book for awhile and now I am really reluctant to read it. Character growth is really important to me.

  2. Ambrluvsports

    This review is perfect – thanks for being completely honest.
    I usually pounce on a book as soon as someone mentions the word “physics”, but this sounds like a bad imitation of that TV show, The Fringe.

  3. theladybugreads

    The synopsis doesn’t even make sense!  First, it says:
    <i>Jo’s life is everything Josie wants: she’s popular, her parents are happily married, and Nick adores her.</i>
    And then it says:
    <i>But Jo’s world is far from perfect. Not only is Nick not Jo’s boyfriend, he hates her. Jo’s mom is missing, possibly insane.</i>
    Did I miss something?  How can Nick adore her and hate her?  How can her parents be happily married with her mother missing and insane?
    Nonsensical synopses are a big red flag for me.  If the summary doesn’t make much sense, the book probably isn’t going to, either.

  4. LenaMarsteller

    i kinda of wanted to read this book, but I was nervous about the two parallel worlds part…. I liked Ten but it was totally predictable… and Possess was good. I might skip this one or at least get it from the library. I  am interested more about the Get Even series that Gretchen is writing. Thanks for the honest review, it definitely helped decide if I was going to read it.

  5. katlb82

    I was majorly disappointed in Ten, and although this one sounded ‘good-ish’, I was waiting for some reviews before deciding if I even wanted to consider it.  It’s such a shame because McNeil’s books SOUND good but obviously fail to deliver.

    Insta love, please die.  Love, Me.

  6. cynicalsapphire

    First off, AHAHAHA, told you so. 
    Wow, that’s even worse than the usual comparison marketing they do. It’s such a trap, and it sounds like they’ve moved to straight up lying now. Awesome.
    Yup, I remember her not having impressive writing. CHECK.
    Flat characters were for sure a problem, and I’ve heard about that in all of her books.
    WOW, she knows more physics than her teachers? Is she a prodigy? I feel like everyone would know if she was. Also, bleh for scientific infodumping. I hate science. No one wants that. SOMEONE HANDED OVER THEIR ID CARD? No fucking way. That is a fast track to being unemployed.
    Wow. Instalove in a nutshell. A couple of sentences by the THIRD PERSON NARRATOR telling us that she is in love for real, you can trust me because I am the narrator and I know all.
    You’re so nice to give this hot mess 1.5 stars.

  7. Charlotte

    Parent trap had been one of my favorite movies, Steph.  And it’s one of the reasons why I still have hopes for Lindsay.  I just can’t shake the memory that once upon a time, she had been this mischievous, candid little girl.  
    As for this book, I haven’t heard of this nor about the author.  And now that this has disappointed you so much, I don’t think I’ll read it. I am now being dependent upon your views on books, Steph.

  8. Steph Sinclair

    alexiareads Some other bloggers that I trust really enjoyed it, though, so it might be a hit or miss type book. But I think you should be able to tell within the first few chapters if it’s your kind of book.

  9. Steph Sinclair

    theladybugreads The blurb def. doesn’t give enough context there. In the beginning, Josie just sees pieces of Jo’s life (just one minute at 3:59, morning and afternoon). So the first part of the blurb addresses that. 
    Then once she and Jo switch places, that’s when she sees the imperfections and horrors of Jo’s world. So she was only seeing little glimpses and assuming things were perfect because her life was falling apart.

  10. Steph Sinclair

    katlb82 If you were disappointed in Ten, this might not be any better for you. I’ve seen a few reviewers who liked Ten and disliked 3:59. That doesn’t bode well for some who already wasn’t very impressed with her other books.

  11. Steph Sinclair

    cynicalsapphire LOL. Oh, how I love you. You were right! I should have listened to your infinite wisdom. 
    It’s never said that she is a prodigy, just that her parents are scientists, so she grew up around science stuff. Because obviously if your parents are at the top of their fields that automatically carries over to you in the most extreme sort of way. I could see her being good at it, but it’s almost like this girl could teach it at a university level. (Actually, she does at one point say she could teach her high school physics class.) 
    And all the other students seem to be understand it well too (they mention going over formulas), but they later don’t know as much as Josie. UGH. DUMB.
    Yeah, the access card thing was totally false and reaching. Not only would that person hit the unemployment line, but they might even be facing jail time. 
    Hahaha. Yes. A foot. With blood. That part was so ridic. 
    I am a kind-hearted person. 😉

  12. Steph Sinclair

    @Charlotte I am the same, Charlotte! I want for her to get her life together so badly, because when she is on the top of her game, she’s a really great actress. 
    I had only heard of the author’s pervious novel, Ten, before I saw this one at BEA (missed it there because they were only doing a signing). But I did meet the author at one of the parties and she was soooo nice and very fun to hang around. That’s when I first started seriously considering reading it. I wish I could have liked her book more. 🙁

  13. cynicalsapphire

    Steph Sinclair Both my parents were math majors, and my dad even has a PhD, so it’s really no wonder that I am a genius with numbers. *holds up sarcasm sign*
    I mean, even in spy shows, which are outlandish enough, when the female spy gets a key card from a male guard, she sneaks it off his person. She’s not just like “teehee, I forgot my sweater, so can I have your ID?”
    So benevolent.

  14. Kara_M

    Ahh gosh, sorry this one didn’t work out for you but I loved the review! Especially the GIF part because that made me giggle. I love when you review hilariously bad books. I am now thinking I am probably going to skip this one and that makes me sad.

  15. theladybugreads

    Steph Sinclair theladybugreads – Well, see, you just explained it way better in a few sentences than the blurb managed to do!  🙂  If that’s really how it all unfolded, then the word choice in the synopsis is poor.  It should have read something like “Jo’s life seems to be everything Josie wants” … rather than “Jo’s life is everything Josie wants”.

  16. Primrose

    Oh, dear. I was so looking forward for this book. I loved the author’s first book. This sounds disappointing.

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