It’s been my experience whenever a well-read friend recommends a book, it’s best to read it. Not long ago a buddy told me about a quirky novel with the odd title of Special Topics in Calamity Physics. According to him, I simply had to read it. So, following his advice I went searching through my public library’s catalog and lo and behold, there was an available copy. Hoping his recommendation was a sound one, I checked out that copy and later that evening began reading it. Yes, I’m happy to report my buddy did not lead me down the wrong path. Special Topics in Calamity Physics, just like he said is quirky. But more importantly it’s bold, original and entertaining as hell.
Published in 2006, Pessl’s debut novel is told from the perspective of Blue, a precocious 16-year-old girl. The daughter of an itinerant college professor, she’s intelligent well beyond her years and not only well-read, but in all likelihood better read than most adults twice or even three times her age. After spending years crisscrossing the country as her father drifted from one teaching position after another other (almost always at some third tier college in a podunk town), the two of them spend a year or so in Stockton, North Carolina where Blue enrolls at the prestigious Saint Gallway School.
Not long after starting at this private academy Hannah Schneider, a Bohemian film instructor introduces Blue (after a chance encounter at the supermarket where she makes small talk with Blue’s professor father) to a clique of the school’s cool kids, called the Blue Bloods. Of the Blue Bloods, my favorite is probably Jade. The daughter of a onetime model with the odd first name of Jefferson, who spends her time conspicuously absent from her daughter’s life (usually in places like Vale in the arms of handsome ski instructor), Jade is a vain, celebutante in training and one of the ringleaders of the Blue Bloods. Needless to say, the intellectual Blue and the shallow hedonist Jade make an unlikely and therefore entertaining pair.
Without revealing too much, just when you think this is just another coming of age novel (albeit a clever and edgy one) the author throws up some major twists and we’ll just leave it at that. Special Topics in Calamity Physics lived up to all my friend’s hype. I’m glad I took his advice.