Spontaneous - Aaron Starmer

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.

This book is bizarre. Seriously. People just explode! And yet, it's hilarious, poignant, and totally intriguing! Mara's narration has moments of nonsensical and lacklustre exposition, but for the most part, she narrates a very engrossing tale of the inexplicable and unexplained. She's snarky, cynical, heartfelt, and definitely honest, even behind her lies (including lies of omission).

Individuals who are secondary to the plot still have backstories that make the novel worth reading. There is a lot of intriguing stuff around the reasons behind these backstories. The issue that a number of individuals seem to have around Spontaneous is the unresolved nature of the central subject of spontaneous human combustion and Rosetti's motives for doing all that she does throughout the text, but in a way, I don't feel this is a problem, since it is the very essence of the story around the spontaneous combustion that is of greater interest (at least to me.)

I think if there had been an explanation, the story would have moved more toward an attempt at contemporary sci-fi rather than a contemporary realism novel with some inexplicable human explosions. I love the more human stories that surround the exploded individuals. How do we try to make connections? Why do we assume race and sexuality and other such identities are responsible for the unexplained student explosions. Starmer examines the human condition in ways that some reviewers assume he was going to explore spontaneous human combustion.

This is a truly inventive novel and one that I would Recommend to many audiences, including teens, teen librarians, high school librarians, and parents of youth who want unusual tales without simple answers.


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