Writing: 4 Plot: 4 Characters: 4
When 14 year old Spencer Barton meets Hope Birdsong for the first time, he knows something significant has happened. They never run out of things to talk about – from her planning adventures all over the world to his encyclopedic (and occasionally disgusting) knowledge of weird bugs and their behavior (he has a tarantula named Lord Voldemort!). They explore the boundaries between being friends, not friends, best friends, and more than friends as they simultaneously grapple with both typical and atypical middle / high school issues: Spencer has Tourette’s which garners him more than his share of nastiness and Hope experiences a traumatic death which seems to knock the very breath from her life.
The story is told in first person from Spencer’s perspective. His humorous and yet deeply reflective voice is easy and fun to read. He likes taxonomies which help him make sense of the world and they offer a kind of orthogonal view of the story. Diversity is fully embraced in the recitation with some consideration of what it means to be “other” both embodied in the narrative and discussed directly at times. As an aside, some really good descriptions of what it is like to have Tourette’s, what kind of coping mechanisms can be used, and what kind of positive brain side effects might come of having it.
There are some issues with pacing – indeterminate amounts of time seem to have elapsed between chapters and although it’s not that difficult to figure out, it is a little jarring.
Good for fans of “What to Say Next” and “Words in Deep Blue”