Firestarter by Stephen King
I used to read a lot of Stephen King in high school and college - while some of his novels would occasionally go off the deep end, I could also count on being entertained by them. Obviously, some were much better than others. Especially if I'd been reading a lot of dry nonfiction or classics, I would always see his books as a relaxing break.
I've read most of his novels at this point, except for some of the very early ones. I read Carrie earlier this year, and some of the ideas are rather similar to Firestarter. It's actually kind of interesting to compare some of his earlier work to later novels. My dad is not a huge Stephen King fan but he liked The Dead Zone and The Stand and therefore, is actually the person that introduced me to Stephen King. It seems like in his early work, King starts out with a much smaller idea that is just a little bit out there, but still very believable. I know sometimes when I've read his later work, I'll enjoy it quite a bit, and then there will be a twist or a turn that just seems like a bit too much. For example, I vaguely remember Rose Madder - it begins as a novel about a woman escaping her abusive husband and starting her life over, and ends with her running from him in some magical picture. The husband also turns into a bull, possibly.
By comparison, Firestarter is rather tame. King takes the question he asked in Carrie, "What if people really had telekinetic abilities?" and approaches it from a slightly different angle. In this one, there are more powers than simply telekinesis - Charlie's father has the ability to mentally persuade as well as occasional intuitive hunches, her mother had the occasional moments of telekinesis, and Charlie can start fires with her mind. Unlike Carrie, Charlie is loved as a child, so the novel isn't about what could go wrong when a teenager that has been picked on her whole life suddenly has powers. Instead, the question is what would happen if the government knew about these abilities? In fact, Charlie's parents only have theirs as a result of rather unethical experiment funded by the Shop, a mysterious government agency.
When the government agents are discussing Charlie's powers, they wonder how much more powerful she might be once she hits puberty. Of course, this was also when Carrie's powers started really showing themselves. It's interesting how some of King's most famous characters are young girls with extraordinary abilities. I might not be remembering everything here, but it seems like in most of his other novels, he tends to focus more on young boys when he uses children than girls (I almost forgot about The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, but I've never read it). For example, The Dark Tower obviously has Jake, The Shining had a young boy, etc.
Overall, I liked it - he had improved upon the parts of his writing style that I disliked in Carrie, but didn't have any crazy plot twists. Maybe not the great novel I'd wanted to end with but at least it didn't make me want to rip my hair out and kill all the main characters (except for the ones that are villains, of course).