Happy birthday, rachelmanija! I hope it was a wonderful day, and I hope it leads into a wonderful year. As it is difficult to send an iced cake through the mail and not have it turn into a mass of crumbs and goo, I have read this impressively terrible book in your honor-- a book which honestly, in my opinion, also turns into a mass of crumbs and goo, but at least an entertaining one, although with less chocolate.
It is difficult to know where to start with this book. There are so many amazing things about it.
The protagonist, Lucius Wolfe (Note Subtly Symbolic Last Name), is entering a new high school as a sophomore. Because he can't stay at the old school any longer. Because everyone there thinks he's crazy. This would be because he started an explosion which blew off both his arms, indicating somewhat that they all have a point. Of course, no one has offered him any counseling for this. His parents have merely placed him in a new school and informed him that if he does anything to make them mad ever, ever again they are shipping him off to an institution for the criminally insane FOREVER AND EVER. You know, like you do, when apparently there are no social services curious about why a teenage boy might blow up his house and what his state of mind might have been at the time, and when no one apparently has even asked him what was going through his head. Nope! Total normality or straitjackets forever!
And on the bus to school on the first day he meets A Girl. Her name is-- please note the upcoming subtle symbolism-- Aurora Belle. Did you miss the symbolism? In case you missed it, allow me to inform you that her father calls her 'princess' and that she has Cinderella wallpaper. THAT'S RIGHT. THE HEROINE IS A DISNEY PRINCESS. SPECIFICALLY A DISNEY PRINCESS. (Apologies for lapsing into all-caps. I can't help it.) DISNEY. PRINCESS.
Also she has... uh, what was the color-word? Oh, yeah, eyes "the color of the serene ocean". And she thinks the protagonist's eyes are "the color of topaz", except that she also thinks they're "the color of mahogany", which means that she may need to upgrade her internal color words dictionary somewhat.
So they Meet Cute and they Fall In Love At First Sight, but they don't actually talk, because their social strata are Too Separate. From that point on, in a beautiful example of Overexaggerated Inappropriate Capitalization, he thinks of her (for the entire rest of the book) as his Dark Angel. Because uh she has black hair which means she must be dark despite being the nicest, sweetest, sunniest person anybody has ever met. Ever.
But, oh woe! Their social strata are not only Too Separate, there is another guy who likes her. He is of course Evil. He almost certainly kicks puppies premeditatedly. But he gets the lead in the school play opposite her and wacky hijinks ensue and oh god this whole thing is too dumb to keep summarizing. I mean, what do you think happens? The girl goes out with the protagonist, the evil guy is publicly proven to kick puppies, the girl's father who has been unjustly kept from seeing her in the school play is allowed in to watch her at the very last moment...
At any rate, the plot is not what makes this book really amazing, and amazingly bad. Nor is the sentence-by-sentence writing, although it has a great many color words for people's eyes and hair which do not, actually, occur in nature.
No, there are two things that elevate this book into the realm of the desperately memorable, one fairly minor and one gigantic. The fairly minor one is that the book shows an ignorance of teenagers and of teenage pop culture that is simply mind-blowing. Here is what I mean about the pop culture. Please bear in mind this came out in September of 2009:
"I know I should get rid of the dog alarm [her alarm clock is built into a stuffed dog] and get something cooler, something more suitable to my age. But I don't even know what that would be. My friend where we used to live, Gracie, had a Hannah Montana alarm clock, but I don't even know if that's something a kid my age would have anymore. What would girls our age have now? A Lindsey Lohan alarm clock?"
SHE IS SUPPOSED TO BE SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. SHE IS ALSO SUPPOSED TO BE POPULAR. Which is to say, no, she's not going to be caught dead with Miley Cyrus anything, although I suppose Justin Bieber might be marginally acceptable, but honestly I am thinking, like, Beyonce. Also, 2009 is not 2007.
Later on the protagonist has so impressively never heard of either the movie or the play of Grease that he spends a page and a half theorizing about why somebody would try to write a play about rendering fat. This book takes place somewhere in the U.S., so any high school student of the (white, rich-ish) demographic this book has as a setting who hasn't been subjected to the sight of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John performing a terrible travesty of nineteen-fifties rock and roll about seventeen times probably even before getting to high school is... well, profoundly lucky, but also kind of amazingly hiding under a rock. I should know. I lived under a rock for most of my school years, and my high school showed that movie in assembly. And I had already been forced to watch it four times in various other social situations. Maybe in the intervening years it has gone out, but it was one of the cultural touchstones of, like, the entire state of Ohio as of oh five years ago and I have great doubts. So the entire book is like this about all pop culture at all times. It's like being in a dimension where everything is tinted slightly puce, or something, it's just a bit wrong.
But that's not the major thing about this book. No. The thing about this book that elevates it to its realms of glory is the way the protagonist is about his hands.
You see, you must not be allowed to forget for two entire sentences that his hands are missing and he has hooks now and everybody finds them SCARY. I cannot adequately describe the way the book dwells on this and the specific school of emo it is following, so I will quote. He has just spilled orange juice on his father's newspaper. Emphasis mine because I cannot help it:
"Gee, if I'd known spilling my orange juice was this effective, I'd have spilled it in Dad's direction every day when I was younger. Then maybe he'd have made time to do things with me like, I don't know, play catch in the yard. Not that I'm complaining or playing the neglected child card. I'll never do that. I know what I've done. I know who's responsible for everything in my life, past, present and future. Still, a little catch would have been fun, when I still had hands."
THE ENTIRE BOOK IS LIKE THIS. THE. ENTIRE. BOOK.
I am not going to type out the sequence in which he concludes that he is forever! going to have to be! celibate! because with his hooks! he cannot possibly! put on a condom without puncturing it! except to say that both myself and the book's previous owner were screaming at him in all-caps about how maybe a girl could put a condom on a person once in a while and there are better uses for a mouth than angsting interminably.
Oh, also, did I mention that he tells his tragical backstory to the girl, and she is all sad for him, and then later on he reveals that the explosion happened because he was thinking about maybe blowing somebody or other up, you know, no specific target in mind, and she recoils in horror and runs away from the Awful Truth despite the fact that this being his reasoning is absolutely the only logical conclusion to come to given everything else he already said about his backstory and therefore she should have figured it out twenty pages ago? Yeah. That.
In conclusion: this book is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. I am not managing to tell you about half of it. You should all read it. It is a real treasure, a thing of great rarity and magnificence, and I could not remotely have put it down. It is the worst book I have read in at least a decade. I wish I could really manage to communicate its essence to you, but criticism can only go so far.
DISNEY. FRICKIN'. PRINCESS.
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