Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1131
The epigraph at the beginning of the novel is a quote from the Book of Samuel in the Christian Bible. In the verse, the prophet Samuel warns the Hebrew people that a ruler will exert absolute control over their daily lives, using their talents and resources to his advantage. Despite this warning, the people insist on having a king like other nations—so the “Lord answered, Give them a king.”
Following this epigraph is an exchange of letters between Neil Adam Aron, an author for the Men Writers Association, and a female colleague named Naomi. In his letter, Neil explains that he organized his latest book as a historically grounded narrative. Naomi replies that she finds Neil’s manuscript exciting.
What follows is the draft of Neil’s book, The Power. This frame structure introduces the primary narrative, which documents the period during which women discovered they possessed the power to manipulate electrical energy in their bodies. Neil’s book opens with an epigraph of its own from the Book of Eve. The excerpt describes the “shape of power” as a tree, with tendrils branching and reaching out from its core. This shape is reflected in rivers flowing to the ocean, in lightning striking the earth, and, the author suggests, within the nerves and blood vessels of the human body. Power can flow in two directions: sometimes it flows from the center outward—as when palace issues commands to the common people. But eventually, power will flow in the other direction, and when the people change, the palace must change as well.
The first chapter of Neil’s book describes how fourteen-year-old Roxy Monke harnesses a mysterious power to maim an intruder who attacks her mother. The daughter of a British crime boss, Roxy is used to her family being the target of both ridicule and violence. Although she was supposed to have been away visiting cousins, Roxy is at home with her mother on the evening two men kick down the front door. Surprised to find the girl there, one of the men chases Roxy through the house before locking her inside a cupboard under the stairs.
Unbeknownst to the intruders, Roxy skillfully removes the screws from the hinges in the darkness; she has been locked inside the cupboard as punishment throughout her childhood. Her mother’s piercing screams motivating Roxy to work quickly, she finally pushes the door open, hitting the taller intruder with it as she exits.
The shorter intruder places a knife against the mother’s throat when Roxy enters the living room. Roxy’s mother pleads with her to run, but Roxy is determined to fight so that she and her mother can escape into the street.
Feeling a mysterious “glittering” inside herself and smelling “bitter oranges,” Roxy grabs the short man’s wrist and initiates a “twist” from within, sending a jolt of electrical energy through her fingertips and into the man’s hand. She sees a red scar branching out on the man’s arm immediately afterward. Roxy unsuccessfully tries to help her mother out of the house. The short man, one of his hands now limp, chases after them, still brandishing the knife.
Thinking she can repeat the attack from moments earlier, Roxy takes hold of the man’s other wrist and initiates the inner “twist”—to no avail. The man laughs before knocking her unconscious. When she wakes, Roxy sees her mother’s bleeding body on the sofa. The narrator says Roxy is one of the first known cases of a young girl harnessing the “power.”
In the next chapter, Nigerian college student Tunde recalls the time he first learned about the power. Infatuated with the beautiful and smart Enuma, Tunde feigns illness so that they can be alone in the house he shares with friends. Tunde and Enuma play-fight over a can of Coke. When Enuma’s palm touches Tunde’s, he feels a paralyzing shock of pain as Enuma laughs and kisses him.
Confused and embarrassed, Tunde avoids Enuma for the rest of the summer. He is afraid to talk about what happened and fixates on the experience in private. As a student of journalism, however, Tunde’s instinct is to investigate—and at a supermarket months after his encounter with Enuma, Tunde has an opportunity to find proof of the power.
After hearing a young girl and older man’s argument escalate, Tunde begins recording video on his cell phone. Tunde watches the video later, seeing clearly how a mere touch of the girl’s hand left her harasser in a convulsive stupor on the ground. Feeling a mixture of validation and fear, Tunde uploads the video to the Internet.
Tunde’s viral video begins a worldwide frenzy, and similar videos depicting young girls who incapacitate male victims using only their hands begin to appear. Margot, a mayor in the United States, feels mounting public pressure to address the panic these videos have inspired in her constituents. At the behest of her advisor, Margot agrees to shut down schools until more information is known about this phenomenon. Margot is skeptical of the veracity of these videos and, initially, much of society is too.
Reports from Indian scientists are published, showing that tests on newborn infant girls have confirmed the existence of a muscular structure dubbed the “skein.” This band of muscle fibers along the collarbone allows girls to use “electrical echolocation.” As more girls, most of them adolescents, harness the power to injure boys, cities segregate schools by sex, and television reports warn parents to protect their sons.
Margot handles the crisis in her city away from her own daughters until she receives a call from her ex-husband, who says that their daughter Jocelyn has gotten in trouble at school for using the power to hurt a boy. Margot visits Jocelyn, hoping to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon that continues to create problems for Margot to solve.
Jocelyn reveals that she has been using the power for at least six months, suggesting that teens have known about it far longer than adults. Margot asks Jocelyn to use the power on Margot so that Margot can learn firsthand what it feels like. Jocelyn reluctantly agrees to grant her mother’s request. As Jocelyn grabs her mother’s arm, Margot finds herself paralyzed, unable to speak or move, and feels an intense pain that seems to last forever. Just before Jocelyn loosens her grip, Margot feels a kind of pinging in her own chest.
This event triggers Margot’s childhood memories of harnessing the power during a game she played alone. Margot realizes that she has always had the ability to harness the power, but she had forgotten that fact as an adult.