Some kids excel in art, others in sports or math. But Christopher Lane’s talents lie only in thieving and lying - or so he’s always been told. So it comes as a shock to everyone, not least Chris himself, when he wins a place at an exclusive academy after a very unusual interview.
For it turns out Chris does have a natural gift for one thing - something that every child can do during their twelfth year, though few will ever find out.
He can enter people’s minds.
Now Chris must learn to use this power, his Ability, to make the world a safer place. But while Chris is perfecting his talent, twin brothers Ernest and Mortimer are using their Ability to carry out the plan their mother has spent many years perfecting. And she’s not interested in saving anyone.
All she wants is revenge.
REVIEWS FOR THE ABILITY
From ATYCHIPHOBIA 2.0
The Ability by M.M. Vaughan is my kind of book. It has great characters and a wonderfully fun plot. I am definitely a plot-driven reader, but in order for a book to really connect with me, I have to love the characters. Christopher Lane, the protagonist, is a character I adore. Throughout the story Christopher shows his smarts, but more importantly his heart always is in the right place. He faces challenges with curiosity and respect. I am glad I got to know him.
We learn, in Vaughan’s fictional world, that some 12 year-olds possess abilities like telepathy, telekensis and highly avanced learning capacities. Unfortunately for these kids, the window into the brain for these advanced abilties only lasts one year. This is why the people who run Myers-Holt want to get their hands on kids like Christopher to train, and maybe use, them when their abilities are at their highest potential.
There were a few times during Chris’s adventure that I had to stop myself and ask, “Is this too far out there?” but soon after I asked that question, Vaughan’s writing pulled me right back into the plot. Overall, the surreal nature of the abilities the kids had were tempered with enough normalcy to make a reader wonder, “Could this really happen?”
The Abiltiy is the first book in a series and while the first story wraps up a tidily for Christopher, the reader ends with one of Christopher’s nemeses screaming into the sky and vowing revenge. Cue the dramatic music please. Which leads my only real complaint about this book: I have to wait until next March for the second one to hit the stores.
I think there are lots of middle grade readers who will love this book. It has action, adventure and the kids in it all have ‘super-powers.’ Who hasn’t wished they could read someone’s mind, move objects across a room without touching them or learn a foreign language in a day?
Writer Vaughan mentions Roald Dahl by name as one of her influences but I’m not sure that she needed to; Dahl’s influence can be strongly felt in the wholly unsympathetic adults who are the rule rather than the exception in the lives of all of the children. Imagine the life of Charlie Bucket without the comic relief of his bedridden grandparents and you’re looking at Christopher’s life.
But Vaughan is reaching for more complexity and less satire than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Her young villains are pawns, too, which introduces a lovely shade of gray to a moral palate that might otherwise have suffered from too much black and white. Her masterstroke, though, is the cultivation of the theme of children caring for their parents, for those (presumably) wise and venerable souls that, by all rights, should be taking care of them. This is as true on the micro level, in Christopher’s relationship with his mother as well as that of our micro-villains and their adopted mother, as it is on the macro—because England needs this team of tiny psychics to save the prime minister, darn it!
Marcel—a 12-year-old with his own modest abilities—read this along with me, but his take on the book’s overriding theme was different than mine.
“I thought The Ability was really about the lack of ability, or the place where your ability to change anything or do anything stops,” Marcel said, referring specifically to an unpleasant incident with an ice sculpture that I won’t spoil for you here. “There’s only so much they can do. Really, there’s only so much any human being can do.”
The best thing about The Ability (aside from reading it with Marcel) is that Vaughan is just getting started. Beyond Christopher and his heartbreaking opposite number, Ernest, the characterization can be somewhat light. But like her characters, Vaughan’s Ability is strong. What follows next from her is sure to be sharper and deeper. Any sequel will be down-right spoon-bending.
M.M. Vaughan’s “The Ability” is the answer to the frequently asked question: “what should I read after Harry Potter?”
A book with great promise and a beautifully illustrated cover, The Ability follows the trials and tribulations of Christopher Lane, a child who, like Harry, comes from a dysfunctional home. Chris is instantly likeable and pitiable, from his bravery in dealing with his father’s death and his mother’s mental illness, to his willingness to step up and be more responsible than any 12-year-old boy should ever have to be. After being expelled from school, Chris ends up at the exclusive Myers Holt Academy, where he’s told he will be working for the government by using special powers he did not know he possessed, including telepathy. He spends a lot of time walking around the illusionary streets and buildings that make up the minds of people who are suspected of being involved in enemy plans.
Perfect for teens to read alone, or for younger kids as a riveting bed-time story.
From A READER OF FICTIONS
I am a total sucker for middle grade novels about special schools and kids with powers. Perhaps it's because I grew up reading Harry Potter, and am still on the hunt for that elusive book that will mean as much tome, though I know that will likely not happen, because I'm an adult now and less able to appreciate the magic. Still, for all that I'm not likely to find something as amazing as Harry Potter is, my middle grade choices have yet to fail me. The Ability is a darker-than-usual middle grade novel with humor and action aplenty.
The main hero of The Ability is young Christopher Lane, just turning twelve years old and at wit's end for how to take care of himself and his mother, ruined by the death of his father. Like so many scrappy heroes, everything falls to Chris. He struggles in school, marked as a troublemaker and is finally expelled for a weird incident where he somehow beats up a bully without touching him. But, thankfully, salvation comes in the form of a test to study at an elite, strange prep school, Myers Holt Academy, which Chris passes with flying colors. After his test, the proctor presents him with a surprise birthday cake.
Now, there are certainly a few shades of Harry Potter obviously, like the cake, but The Ability does not read like a retelling. What's most similar is actually the tone, more than the story itself. Harry Potter begins as a fairly light story for children, but then becomes progressively darker as the children age. The Ability is not a kids book and I would recommend it for the upper end of the middle grade age group. There's some death and injury, and some ethical lines that get crossed. I really liked how dark this was, and that there are shades of gray to the characters. The bad guys aren't just evil; they have backgrounds that explain how they became the way they are. Similarly, the children and their teachers are flawed and imperfect.
There's a lot of humor in The Ability too. Most of the funny moments center around Rex, definitely the least likable of the six kids in this class at Myers Holt Academy. However, just like the other five students, the readers can't help but be glad that Rex is there, because he's so funny, both accidentally and on purpose, even if many of his jokes are rather mean-spirited. There are also some more standard middle grade jokes, like food fights and that sort of thing. The funniest moment for me, though, was this scene where Chris is sent to a fancy department store to buy some new clothes and the salesman is all snooty telling him to get his grubby hands out of his department, until a manager comes and tells him who Chris is.
Anyway, the powers that the kids have are also really cool. See, Myers Holt Academy, as one expects, is totally not a normal school. In fact, they train kids to work for the government in the super secret branch MI18. In this world, twelve-year-olds have unique abilities, where they can use a larger portion of their brains. What's really cool and unique is that these powers only manifest for a single year, though any information learned during this period will be retained for life. Basically, these kids are selected because they have more potential, but all kids age 12 have increased capacity. At Myers Holt Academy, they learn telekinesis, distance viewing, and mind reading/control. This is both cool and terrifying because I would not want children to have that much power, which is also why Sir Bentley, the head of the school, gives them lectures about using their power responsibly all the time.
Speaking of how terrifying kids with powers are, the kids they are fighting are so creepy. They're these twins who will stop at nothing to please their crazy step-mother. Yet, as evil as they are, you sort of get how they got that way and it's just sad all around, but they do need to be stopped. Vaughan does a great job setting up the bad guys and not making them laughable like so many middle grade villains are, because they don't run around spouting monologues about their evil plans.
The Ability is a great read for more mature middle graders. It's a great choice for those who enjoyed Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society, as well as Harry Potter. I will be looking forward to the next installment!