Goodreads: A Thousand Pieces of You
Series: Firebird #1
Published: November 4, 2014
Marguerite Caine’s physicist parents are known for their radical scientific achievements. Their most astonishing invention: the Firebird, which allows users to jump into parallel universes, some vastly altered from our own. But when Marguerite’s father is murdered, the killer—her parent’s handsome and enigmatic assistant Paul—escapes into another dimension before the law can touch him.
Marguerite can’t let the man who destroyed her family go free, and she races after Paul through different universes, where their lives entangle in increasingly familiar ways. With each encounter she begins to question Paul’s guilt—and her own heart. Soon she discovers the truth behind her father’s death is more sinister than she ever could have imagined.
A Thousand Pieces of You explores a reality where we witness the countless other lives we might lead in an amazingly intricate multiverse, and ask whether, amid infinite possibilities, one love can endure.
When I picked up A Thousand Pieces of You, I wasn’t really expecting a hardcore science fiction novel. The cover alone (which is absolutely gorgeous, by the way) tipped me off immediately that this book is being marketed primarily to romance/fantasy fans. However, I also wasn’t expecting it to skirt around quite as many of its own issues as it does, or to have such a poor idea of how most PhD programs work. So, while the “real” focus of the book, the romance, is undoubtedly its best characteristic, I cannot help being frustrated with its fundamental premise.
These two things—science and romance—do overlap badly in the love triangle, however. We’ll move past the fact that there is a love triangle at all, and that Marguerite has wild flights of fancy switching between loving and hating her parents’ two hunky research assistants, which often seem to be based on Marguerite’s poor ability to interpret the English language and thus choosing to be offended by things that were clearly never meant as insults.
The real problem is the age difference between Marguerite (apparently a high school senior, so about eighteen years old) and these two men. Fine, Paul is a science genius and started a physics PhD program at the young age of seventeen. He’s a little older than Marguerite. But what about Theo? The book claims he’s about three years older than Marguerite, which is impossible, since he is explicitly not also a science genius. The (normal) youngest age to enter a PhD program is twenty-two. However, even if Theo had entered at that age, directly after earning his BA (which is certainly not always the case in PhD programs these days), Theo is not a first-year student. He is working on his dissertation, which means he’s a few years into the program. At the youngest, I’d guess he has to be twenty-five. And, frankly, I have no idea why someone that age would be hitting on a high schooler.
On a few other technical levels, the book doesn’t take much time to note that Marguerite’s parents, theoretical physicists, would probably not be the type of people to build a machine that jumps dimensions. Gray notes that theoretical physics “usually” involves mathematical equations, which is true, but never offers a particular explanation for why Marguerite’s parents are building the machines they have theorized by themselves—instead of teaming up with an engineer, who would actually have the training to do something like this. Maybe the readers are just supposed to go with it, under the assumption the two are brilliant and can work in multiple fields of science by themselves.
However, it is difficult for me to believe that Marguerite’s parents are so intelligent when the book skims over anything that would require too much of a scientific explanation. Someone throws out the world “correlate” once and Marguerite flips out about how complex and jargon-y the conversation has become. When something really hard to explain comes up (because this is science fiction and no one has actually made a way to jump through dimensions and track other people’s subatomic particle traces through those dimensions), the characters just say something about how it’s too complicated to elucidate and move on with the plot. I do understand that this is a young adult novel, so the target audience, on average, isn’t coming to it with a background in higher physics—but it’s still depressing to see the idea of correlation presented as the most complex scientific concept in this book. I can take more rigor from my science fiction, I promise.
There are also a few things about the imagined science that fail to make sense. The general idea is that Marguerite can jump to any dimension where that version of her parents have met and had kids. The general rule seems to be that the family structure is the same: Marguerite’s older sister Josie, Marguerite, and maybe some extra siblings that do not exist in the original dimension. …Until Marguerite jumps to a dimension where she exists but Josie does not. I really thought it wasn’t possible to “skip” a child in that way, but maybe it is?
Disgruntlement with the science aside, I did find it incredibly fun to jump through worlds with Marguerite and experience different ways of life. She generally seemed to enjoy the dimensions that were most similar to her own, but the more exotic locations will probably be the favorites of readers. I also enjoyed the hints of a discussion about whether her jumping into and “taking over” other versions of herself is ethical, though it was never discussed at length.
The romance, once it (mostly) gets over being an awkwardly constructed love triangle, is also quite sweet. Things get more complicated if you’re not sure which version of you is falling in love with which version of another person, but Gray adds in enough optimistic lines about destiny and falling in love with the same person no matter where they are that things seem pretty romantic fate-filled. I would have loved to see more sweet moments, since Gray writes them so well, but those may be coming in the following books.
I gave A Thousand Pieces of You three stars on Goodreads. The book, basically, is okay. The romantic elements are often beautiful and Gray does bring readers on an imaginative multi-dimensional ride. These positive aspects are counterbalanced by the wishy-washy science and unrealistic portrayal of grad school. I admit my frustration may arise from the fact I am very close friends with a group of physics PhD students and have picked up enough to share some of their frustration with ill-designed fictional science. Others readers will probably not share my frustration. However, I do, in general, enjoy harder science fiction more than light science fiction, which is really what this is.