Book #109: Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

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A darkly funny and spectacularly original exploration of friendship, goodbyes—and spontaneous combustion.

Mara Carlyle’s senior year is going as normally as could be expected, until—wa-bam!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden explodes during third period pre-calc.

Katelyn is the first, but she won’t be the last teenager to blow up without warning or explanation. As the seniors continue to pop like balloons and the national eye turns to Mara’s suburban New Jersey hometown, the FBI rolls in and the search for a reason is on.

Whip-smart and blunt, Mara narrates the end of their world as she knows it while trying to make it to graduation in one piece. It’s 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 from the President of the United States.

Aaron Starmer rewrites the rulebook with Spontaneous. But beneath the outrageous is a ridiculously funny, super honest, and truly moving exemplar of the absurd and raw truths of being a teenager in the 21st century . . . and the heartache of saying goodbye.

I first found Spontaneous at Target. The title and cover was gripping. I instantly went for the book blurb and read the first few paragraphs of the first chapter. It was love at first chapter and I still love this book.

Mara Carlyle is our foul mouth snarky narrator in this explosive dark comedy about death, life, and coping. I’ve read reviews stating that Mara doesn’t talk like a normal teen girl. Well, no, I wouldn’t say she is typical, but from my experience she’s a girl. I’m not sure how a girl is supposed to sound, but my own thoughts are similar to Mara’s. I saw what I envisioned my own daughter to be like.

See, I’m snarky. I cope with dark humor. And, in very stressful moments, I actually keep my cool. I know this. I’m also a serious foul mouth. My husband, a retired Navy Submariner, doesn’t have the mouth I have. So, I related with Mara tremendously. I also have a best friend who I will be with as an old lady and I do cuddles her (another thing some reviewers thought didn’t happen in real life).

That said, I don’t think this is a book where you should be really delving deep in a character. First person narrative is a tough way to do a dark comedy about coping. It can be a sink or swim kind of situation when it comes to the relationship of story and book. However, you should always remember to take first person narration at first value. Even Starmer suggests that when he right off the bat has Mara describe Agent Rosetti as a person who turns out to be a dimwit (not a spoiler).

This reveal happens very early on. It first illustrates that this is a teen narrating. She’s going to have a hero worship moment and a disillusionment. She’s going to be going everywhere in her thoughts. Hell, I go everywhere in my thoughts and my senior year was ten years ago. The second reason for this reveal is Starmer’s reminder that the reader shouldn’t trust everything they are reading. The whole book itself has falsehoods and theories about why these teens are exploding.

The main focus of this book shouldn’t be the intrigue, but the people. Mara is only a reporter and her fellow survivors are the real story. Yes, she is important, but so are the minor characters.

Now that I’m done with that little soapbox, the writing is good. It’s dark, funny, and quick to get into. The description of the explosions is both messy and vague. It’s like Mara doesn’t want to see if there were hands or actual body parts lying around. Each explosion is basically a person and then a lot of blood. Not like a Gusher candy explosion or even a bomb. Those have shrapnel. Instead, the explosions aren’t messy outside of blood.

I honestly really liked this book. It made me think and want to know more. Starmer leaves us with an ending that could be an ending, but definitely has room for something more. There’s a big part of me that wants another book in the future with Mara doing exactly what she’s been saying she was going to do. There’s another part of me that doesn’t want that book though.

Whatever Starmer plans to do, I will be reading more of his dark young adult comedies.

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