Atomic Number Sixty is an interesting idea from the outset. I’m not sure that I’ve encountered anything like it before.
Essentially, it’s a 60-chapter novella (one minute per chapter) that follows a story which unfolds over 60 minutes. You even get a countdown at the beginning of each chapter.
In the case of Atomic Number Sixty, the story is told from the 1st person perspective of 25-year-old Holly Holloway – a red-head receptionist with an attitude – who finds herself strapped to a bomb, with a timer set exactly to sixty minutes.
As the premise suggests, this is a very short read and took me just over 60 minutes to finish.And I like this concept a lot.
So many people say “I just don’t have time to read anymore,” before declaring to have just binged a TV series (myself included sometimes!). My point is that we make an active choice on how we spend our time and, sometimes, reading gets pushed out.
The great thing about Atomic Number Sixty is that you don’t really have any excuse not to read it.
It’s short, easy-to-read YA fiction that can be finished in a single sitting. I can imagine young commuters, for example, really enjoying this.
“Would you have shrugged your shoulders? Would you have accepted that it was life and moved on? Or would you have looked for revenge? Would you have wanted justice, Holly Holloway?”
Leo forces Holly to confront her past
And though it’s short, Johnston has packed Atomic Number Sixty with a good amount of content.
Holly is well-realised, as are her family. And throughout this 60-minute adventure, Holly goes on a date, revisits key moments in her past, and holds a discussion on ethics and just-causes with a terrorist.
Well, I did tell you it was packed with content!
Interesting Structure and Form
One thing that particularly impressed me was Johnston’s blending of the end of one chapter into the beginning of another. This is despite them often being about completely different topics.
For example, Holly is in a live terrorist situation at one moment, only for the next chapter to return to her date with the (rather odious) Markus. This often took me a few lines to realise.
It had the potential to be confusing, but I actually appreciated it as somewhat dark humour – largely at Markus’s expense!
“It was an impression of Marlon Brando, but only after he’d been run down by a truck and forced through a mincer. Lots of shoulders, lots of mastication, lots of slobbering. Some things just can’t be unseen.”
(This did make me chuckle out loud)
In fact, considering the seemingly serious subject matter, Atomic Number Sixty has some amusing moments. Not all of the humour landed. At times it was quite ‘quippy’, which may appeal to the younger reader, but on the whole, the moments of levity were appreciated.
There were times where I could tell that Holly was written by a man. For example, certain sentences linger on Holly’s figure a little too much.
This isn’t a problem itself – sexiness shouldn’t never taboo – but it felt more for the benefit of the reader than description that added to the character. In that respect, it broke the immersion a little.
I also felt that some of the conversations Holly had with the terrorist named Leo are a little jarring.
At one point, Holly asks Leo how he got his scar. Until now, he had been reticent about saying anything. So I was a little surprised that he launched into a monologue on the history of ‘his people,’ foreign wars, and so forth.
Obviously, it was to advance the plot.
I also wasn’t 100% clear on Atomic Number Sixty’s setting at first. It seemed to be set in the US, based on the use of American English (and references to City Hall – which I assumed was New York?), but it wasn’t quite as clear as it could have been.
However, this didn’t really detract from the story – just an observation.
Final Verdict ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Quibbles aside, I think Johnston should be proud of this sixty-minute-read format. It’s a fantastic way to get people all of all ages reading – a bite-size, podcast-like experience of reading.
I’d love to see it explored more by other authors. If it has been done, do let me know!
But due to its unique format, I found it hard to rate. So much so that I ended up reading it again!
However… Is Atomic Number Sixty worth reading?
It’s a genuinely fascinating idea, executed reasonably well. Whilst It isn’t perfect, I had a lot of fun with it and really appreciated Johnston’s innovative approach to storytelling.
It’s sixty minutes of your time. What have you got to lose?
Atomic Number Sixty is available in digital and paperback here. I’m interested in your thoughts on the 60-minute-read format, so leave a comment below!
*For more information on the Tales from Absurdia rating scale, please read the review rating system.