Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers, Harper Collins AU on August 23rd 2016
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“Katelyn Ogden was a lot of things, but she wasn’t particularly explosive, in any sense of the word.”
Mara Carlyle’s senior year at Covington High in suburban New Jersey is going on as normally as could be expected, until the day—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc. Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last senior to spontaneously combust without warning or explanation. The body count grows and the search is on for a reason—Terrorism! Drugs! Homosexuality! Government conspiracy!—while the seniors continue to pop like balloons.
Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it with tell-it-like-it-is insight as she tries to make it to graduation in one piece through an explosive year punctuated by romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bloggers, ice cream trucks, “Snooze Button™,” Bon Jovi, and the filthiest language you’ve ever heard the President of the United States use over Skype.
So I think I know what this author was going for when writing the book.
I mean, come on, people spontaneously combusting? Sounds like a wild ride with plenty of character introspection and growth. When I started Spontaneous, I was ready to find an underrated gem that not many people know of. What I got was a bit different.
When Katelyn Ogden blew up in third period pre-calc, the janitor probably figured he’d only have to scrub guts off one whiteboard this year. Makes sense. In the past, kids didn’t randomly explode. Not in pre-calc, not at prom, not even in chem lab, where explosions aren’t exactly unheard of. Not one kid. Not one explosion. Ah, the good old days.
Right from the first five pages, I found Mara’s voice extremely unlikable. It’s probably a “me” thing, but I found her highly unrealistic and like the author tried too hard to make her like a teenager. Her voice was just… too much. Readers find out that Mara witnessed the first couple of teenagers spontaneously combust in front of her face, and Mara’s reaction was to say bad jokes and try to put it off. The blurb of this book explains about how it explores grief, so I can understand why she would do that. But at the same time, I feel like the emotional repercussions of having someone’s guts blow up on you is much more than just dumb blowing up jokes. The whole scenario was extremely unrealistic, which made me not take this book seriously.
What was also extremely distasteful to me was the honing in on the fact that the first couple of kids that blew up were ethnic or homosexual. Mara would be like “Was what I said racist? Probably.” Followed up by some weird explanation on why people thought the fact that the first girl to blow up was Turkish, and how the event was thus a terrorist conspiracy. I’m actually really confused on the message the author was trying to send here. Was he trying to negate stereotypes or explain how combusting doesn’t discriminate? Or how the reactions of the people that were embroiled with preconceived notions? If so, I as a reader was utterly lost and a bit disappointed that the author didn’t take advantage to address these issues if he was going to add these elements.
There was an insta-love romance in the book that randomly popped up. It basically went like “Sometimes crazy things happen in the middle of a traumatic event, like falling in love.” Through text message. With an odd character that I didn’t really grow to like. It was an odd addition, and I guess yes these things can happen during a tragedy, but the way it was added just seemed a bit unnecessary and convoluted.
To clarify, I read the first 100 pages of the book and the last 50 pages (just to see what would happen). I really do think that if I had caught up with the dark humor and unique voice of the narrative, I would have had a better time reading. But I really just couldn’t, which made for a lackluster reading experience. If you’re a fan of self-deprecating narrators that like to share many of their honest thoughts – negative or otherwise – to readers though, maybe you should try this one out!
I started out this book wanting to fall in love with it and the characters, but I was sorely disappointed and could not get on board with it. The narration was extremely distasteful for me and I just couldn’t handle reading it for another 200 or so pages. Mara’s self-deprecation, extreme insta-love with no basis for a relationship, and weird thoughts that didn’t seem like it came from a teenager made it incredibly unrealistic – even more unrealistic than the fact that people are spontaneously combusting. The ending leaves things in the air, which made me glad I didn’t use time to read through the middle sections of the story. I guess I would recommend this for people looking for a book full of dark humor and an interesting mystery? Other than that, it was just really hard for me to read, although I think other readers out there will appreciate and understand better than me the message the author was trying to send.
Thank you Harper Collins Australia and Dutton Books for the review copy!