Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl

Summary: Blue, an intelligent teenager, constantly moves about with her brilliant visiting-professor father. When she arrives at another prep school, she finds herself being taken under the wing of one of the school's teachers, Hannah, and brought into the Blueblood clique. Soon, however, unanswered questions begin to arise, and mysteries deepen.

Musings: I've been in a summer institute for the past two and a half weeks and haven't had the opportunity to read with my typical voracity. Nonetheless, this book had been on my "to read" list for awhile (on the recommendation of another English teacher), and as it was one of the few pieces of fiction the Smith College Library had that I wanted to read, I checked it out.

I enjoyed the book, but I do think my reading of it suffered somewhat from misplaced perception. From the English teacher who recommended it, I knew only that the book was about a smart young girl who used endless literary allusions (i.e. all the chapters are titled after canonical texts). However, about halfway through I realized Special Topics was not a story about the difficulties of being a teenager, but instead a historical conspiracy mystery. This turn of events struck me by complete surprise (I don't even think I'd noticed the early warning signs as I was so convinced the book was just about the difficulties of high school). For that reason, although the mystery was interesting, I couldn't help but feel it wasn't appropriate in this book.

Throughout the book many questions go unanswered as the protagonist, Blue, tries to find some ground in her newest school. Her close relationship with her father and her admiration of his intellect also forms a large part of the novel. The book gets a little strange when the teacher Hannah takes a primary role, but it's only in the last third of the novel that all semblance of a "normal" book is thrown out as several chapters are spent by Blue explaining the vast anti-government conspiracy she has stumbled upon.

It's a fun read that kept me wanting to know how it ended, despite feeling sideswiped by the odd turn of events.

No comments:

Post a Comment