The Temperature of Me and You, Brian Zepka (Disney-Hyperion 978-1-36806-471-2, $17.99, hc, 416 pp) January 2022.
Author Brian Zepka set out to blend a sweet romance with high school drama and a major science fiction twist in The Temperature of Me and You, a novel involving the teen victim of a lab accident/experiment that has left him literally burning from the inside out. I’ll be honest; I’m a bit fuzzy on exactly what caused Jordan to be infused with hydrogen or how he is supposed to be alive with this condition. Zepka doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining what happened, preferring instead to focus on the impact. Jordan lives at an elevated temperature and, when he is under stress, has a habit of uncontrollably starting fires. As a result, arson has become quite common in his new neighborhood, and the more he is around new crush Dylan, the more heated things become. Then Dylan becomes infused (infected?) with hydrogen as well, and things get way out of control.
Dylan is the real heart of the novel, an exuberant teen with a couple of loyal best friends, a job at the Dairy Queen, an enemy in the class mean girl, and a romantic’s heart. He falls hard for Jordan, and then spends a lot of time trying to figure out why Jordan can’t seem to be around him. When the transfer of hydrogen occurs and Dylan manifests symptoms similar to Jordan (plus an extra one of his own), things get quite sticky. Apparently there are sinister people watching Jordan, and he’s sort-of on the run. But he still goes to school and lives with his aunt and uncle, and how he can be both scared and safe is just one of the questions I had while reading The Temperature of Me and You.
Jordan’s relatives and Dylan’s parents are great people, supportive and loving in all the ways a kid could want or need, but the boys choose not to turn to them for help, and instead get into even more trouble keeping secrets, and all that stress means more fires. Dylan also lies to his friends, which gets them angry and then in the middle of it all, the mean girl ends up confiding in him and they become friends. There is also a subplot about a Gay Straight Alliance club forming in the school and hoping Dylan will join. Then back to the bad guys showing up around town in scary black cars, and a scientist who might be helping but also maybe not helping, and more fires. At some point it is reasonable to ask if Zepka is crafting a coming-of-age novel based on classic teen tropes or a thriller with science fiction undertones. The romance is solid, Jordan and Dylan are quite sweet together, but the plot loses itself trying to be all things to all readers. The hydrogen experiment is especially hard to follow, and there are no clear reasons why the boys don’t turn to the adults who love them for help. The Temperature of Me and You has a lot of possibilities and some good moments, but overall, it can make for frustrating reading.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the April 2022 issue of Locus.
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