Thursday, February 21, 2013

REVIEW: The Theory of Everything (A #Cybils Award Finalist)

Johnson, J.J.  (2011).  The Theory of Everything.  Atlanta: Peachtree.

334 pages.

Appetizer:  To say sophomore Sarah Smith is going through a rough patch would be a understatement.  Left reeling from the death of her best friend, Jamie, in the school gymnasium, finding a deer in said gymnasium who needs to be put down, brings out many bad memories and emotions.  Sarah can't seem to turn off her snarkbox or openly share with her loved ones what she is going through.  She's worried she's going to love her long distance boyfriend, Sten, forever.  Her parents are running out of ideas of how to help her and all they can think to do now is prevent Sarah from getting her driver's license, take away her beloved wild dog, Rubie, or continue to ground her.  Jamie's twin brother want nothing more than to hear the story of how his sister died from Sarah's lips.  Sarah alone must find a way out of her tailspin.

The main aspects that drew me into this realistic YA novel was Sarah's voice and the various charts and graphs that were featured at the start of each chapter.  (The latter factor means I'm going to be recommending this book to my many mathematically-inclined students...even though Sarah herself never expresses any preference for the subject matter.  It was still interesting to see her represent her life experiences in such varied ways.)

Since the book is serious, and since Sarah spends much of the novel not expressing herself aloud, I was kind of reminded of Melinda from Anderson's Speak.  Although, the books' conflicts are very different.

My one concern with Sarah's voice was the fact that she made a lot of references and allusions to Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica,  and some movies from the 1980s.  As a mmpha-year-old adult, I can appreciate and enjoy all of these references, but I'm not so certain they'll appeal to some of the teenager readers, who will at best maybe be familiar with two of the shows or movies.  (I know, I know, that gives them a reason to try and see the other shows and movies mentioned.)  I just felt it made the book a little's not the 14 to 16-year-old crowd I hear running around still saying 'frak.'  (Let's be honest it's my group of friends.)

I also wasn't initially crazy about the character Captain Possum/Roy.  Sarah's multiple interactions with him early in the novel seemed a little too convenient to be a coincidence in realistic fiction.  Eventually, his story line won me over.

Aspects of the ending of The Theory of Everything left me unsatisfied, although, one of the scenes (Sarah's prank!) was my favorite in the book and made me laugh out loud.

Overall, I enjoyed The Theory of Everything, but I didn't *love* it.  It was the kind of book I could put down and didn't mind coming back to several days later.

Dinner Conversation:

"Eight years ago, when we were seven, my best friend Jamie gave me a kaleidoscope.  It sounds lame, but I loved that thing.  So did Jamie.  The girl kept stealing it back until I gave her one of her own.  We would just lie there in my backyard, staring up at the sky through them.  Prisms turning, colors changing.  White cloud crystals, blue sky fractals.
Trippy, in a wholesome, Hugs Not Drugs way.
Well.  My whole life is like that now--it's trippy and turny and there are no drugs involved, unless Zoloft counts." (p. 2)

"I sigh.  I'm not really a badass, I'm just pissed off.  I hate Mrs. Cleary being sad and the deer being hurt.  Not to mention that the last time a cop asked me questions like this, my best friend had just died right in front of me." (p. 10)

I want to know what happened.  How Jamie died.
Well.  I have two responses to that.
1.  Holy.
2.  Crap.
Actually, three.
3.  No, frigging way.
Sub-divided into
    A.)  No way could he still not know.
    B.)  No way am I going to tell him.
    C.)  No way is this happening." (p. 18)

"'Mom and Dad were talking about how you're becoming such a deadbeat in school.  You don't care about anything anymore, so they don't have any leverage.'
"Leverage?"  What does that mean?
"Anything to bargain with.  Convince you to turn your crap around."
"You mean like, to threaten me with?"
"I guess you could call it that."  He shrugs.
"But Ruby, and Stenn..." My heart freezes.  "And driving.  They wouldn't take them away from me?  They can't."
"Calm down, Freak Show.  I don't think they're planning on it tomorrow.  And I bet they'd start with driver's ed before moving on to the big guns." (p. 37)

Tasty Rating:  !!!.

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