Book review: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind by Jackson Ford

(cover image courtesy Hachette Australia)

Rather ironically for an age in which difference has rapidly become villified by far too many people looking for a quick, greasy populist win, pop culture is more obsessed with the Other of all stripes than ever before.

The creative arts have often celebrated and held up those who differ from the norm since those working in the various industries are not your average products of the cookie cutter mold, an identity very much borne of inherent Otherness which ha, quite naturally, had a profound and understandable effect on their storytelling.

This continued proliferation of stories about people who don’t fit the mold such as mutants who have long subbed in for all kinds of repressed minorities has reach saturation point in recent years hand-in-hand with the ascendancy of superhero cinema and while it has been a welcome development it has meant that it has become challenging, as it does with so much popular genres, to find a fresh way to tell the many stories that fit neatly within it.

Jackson Ford, a pseudonym for a well-known writer who presumably will be exposed sooner rather than later, has found a way to breathe new and vital life into the mutant genre with The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, a book so wild, witty and action-packed that it’s all you can do to hang on for its wildly-inventive, utterly-engrossing ride.

So differently has Ford approached the idea of people with powers beyond mere mortals and the less-than-inclusive way that society as a whole reacts to them – still not well but then you saw that coming didn’t you? – that you spend pretty much of The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind marvelling at how someone could come up with a book this funny, this insightful and this emotionally resonant all in one enrapturingly good package.

“On second thoughts, throwing myself out the window of a skyscraper may not have been the best idea.

Not because I’m going to die or anything, I’ve totally got that under control.

It wasn’t smart because I had to bring Annie Cruz with me. And Annie, as it turns out, is a screamer. Her fists hammer on my back, her voice piercing my eardrums, even over the rushing air.

I don’t know what she’s worried about. Pro tip: if you’re going to take a high dive off the 82nd floor, make sure you do it with a psychokinetic holding your hand. Being able to move objects with your mind is useful in all sorts of situations.” (P. 1)

It helps, of course, that the protagonist, Teagan Frost is such a blast to be around.

Part secret government operative, part malcontent object of invasive scientific study and all sass and hidden vulnerability, Teagan (not her real name) possesses the particular gift of psychokinesis (not “telekinesis” thank you very much), a “gift” bestowed upon her by geneticists who really way beyond what is ethically acceptable in the pursuit of satisfying an idealistic girl.

Very much the product of ethically dubious means leading to an envisaged visionary end, Teagan, as you imagine, has a few chips on her shoulder but miraculously not so weighty that they crush her spirit which is soaring in the anything-goes environs of Los Angeles, a city which is a million miles away from the stultifying banality of her hometown in Wyoming or the suffocating imprisonment of lab testing in Waco, Texas and which offers her the kind of life she always dreamed of having.

Granted, she would very much like it if she wasn’t essentially a slave of the government, dragooned into a super-secret group known as China Shop Movers, a front for an officially-sanctioned vigilante operation created by a hardcore spy named Tanner – she operates very much like Charlie Townsend in Charlie’s Angels, always present and all-seeing but never actually there on the ground – and forced to work with released criminal Annie, buttoned-down by-the-book Paul, hacker extraordinaire Reggie and driver with a heart of gay gold Carlos.

Her work life is not of her choosing and while she is friends with Carlos and mothered to some extent by veteran Reggie, China Shop Movers is a bringing together of people with no other option but to do what Tanner tells them.

There’s a sequel coming! Hurrah! (image courtesy Hachette Australia)

It’s hardly happy families but it’s given Teagan some semblance of a normal life, well as normal as someone with psychokenisia (PK) can have, and while she doesn’t love it, she takes solace in the fact that things could be much worse.

And then, alas, they are when a tech billionaire is discovered murdered at the multi-story site of China Shop’s last job, killed in a way that only someone with PK could have managed.

Yup, it’s time to blame the mutant but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear to Teagan, who is innocent, to her team, who are divided at first on her avowed innocence or otherwise and to friends like Nic and L.A. at large, that there is someone else out there making trouble.

Unleash the hounds of PK war.

What unfolds in The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind is a rollicking, action-packed, quip-heavy thrill ride in which Teagan and her team have 24 exhausting hours to find out who’s killing people around L.A. with steel rebars.

It is wildly, imaginatively intense, hilarious and sad, painful and empowering, a contradictory bonanza of just about everything coming together in one manic day and night which keeps you gripped, absolutely, fantastically gripped, from the first full speed ahead page to the thrilling, there’s-a-sequel-in-the-offing ending. (There is, in fact, a second book in the so-called Frost Files on the way, with Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air due sometime around June this year.)

“I throw out my PK energy, looking for something to grab on to. But I’m not supercharged, and they’re too far away. I’m closing the distance, but I’m not going quick enough—Annie is already half inside the van, a third set of hands visible on the door frame, ready to slam it shut. In desperation I grab the first thing I find with my Pk, the lid of a trash can, hurling it at them. It lands a good ten feet short.

‘Annie, no!’ Paul yells.

Annie vanishes inside the van, her screams cut off as the door slams shut. With a squeal of tyres, it accelerates away, roaring into the night.” (P. 311)

A great deal of the joy of reading The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind is spending time with the garrulously irreverent force of nature that is Teagan Frost.

She is, metal-bending hands down one of the most vividly-realised, fun-to-listen-to, emotionally honest protagonists to come leaping from the pages of a book in some time, a character so incandescently fun, grounded and yet viscerally wounded that you are laughing at her quips one minute, marveling at her audacity another right before your heart is yanked from your chest from some genuinely heartfelt admission.

This is a book with action, heart, humour and a sly, cheeky postmodern glint in its eye, one that never takes the foot of the pedal and yet never feels like some emotionally empty hollow race to the finish line.

It is indeed thrilling and exciting in a clock ticking kind of way, but because the characters are so vividly real and engaging and the stakes so palpably affecting and the humanity so transparent, it always feel like everything that happens in the book matters.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s an apartment, or two, being psychokinetically pulled to pieces, or office chairs with people in it hurtling down 82 floors from the top of an L.A. skyscraper or a desperate evasive chase from an LAPD helicopter, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind makes it clear that real people are being affected in real ways, meaning while the action is full-on and edge-of-your-seat thrilling, it always feels like every single act, violent or not, really matters.

Really, really matters.

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind is that perfect member of the superhero, urban sci-fi genre that comes replete with everything you want from a book like this but which beats furiously, cleverly and hilariously with though and insight, humanity and heart and characters whose welfare matters to you so much that you feel so invested in their welfare that the temptation to jump into the page and held them is near overwhelming.

It’s testament to the veracity and immediacy of Ford’s writing that you feel, even right up to the end, that you could this, something that can’t be said for every story in this well-trafficked genre.

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