I’m going to be gushing a lot in some of my upcoming posts. I’ve been on a serious roll with reading books I love, probably because I did a ton of research on what to read so I could stop reading crap and start reading books I’m obsessed with, rather than lukewarm towards.
Anyway, Maria Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics goes on the gush list. Blue van Meer is the protagonist, who has spent her life traveling from city to city with her professor father, who was constantly guest lecturing at some rural university or another. And during her senior year, she finds herself at the St. Galloway school in North Carolina. And while she finally finds a place to belong, she finds herself entangled in the odd, complicated and slightly terrifying world of a teacher and the teacher’s favorite students.
This book expertly straddled two genres. There was a significant amount of plot and character development dedicated to Blue, and her friends, as they navigate the awkward world of high school under the tutelage of a slightly unhinged, but absolutely magnetic, teacher. And this book was also a traditional thriller, with Blue introducing the mystery at the beginning, and the psychological underpinnings of the mystery unraveled slowly over the course of the book.
This book reminded me a lot of The Secret History, but I think I prefer Special Topics. The end of this book throws a curve ball at you that I, for one, was not expecting. When the surprise plot twist occurred, I was slightly irritated at first. It felt off with the tone of the book, and the slow, methodically plotted story. Except three pages later, I was obsessed. The last 30-40 pages were my favorite, and the plot twist really highlights how Blue has strengthened over the course of the story. And the plot twist is interesting on its own.
For those of you who enjoy slightly creepy stories of young adults navigating the sexually and politically charged world of private schools, you will love this.