Special Topics in Calamity Physics has many of the elements I don’t like in a story. Bratty teens, teen drinking, teen sex, teens doing drugs, possibly sketchy student-teacher interactions, and a teacher who committed suicide (or DID she!? Dun dun DUNNN), but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the story of 17 year old highly intelligent, and somewhat precocious Blue Van Meer (so named by her late mother who was interested in butterflies and could only seem to catch Blue Morphos). Blue and her unpleasant father (lecturer, professor, womanizer, and well rounded intellectual) have been leading a transient life since Blue’s mother died. She’s been in and out of schools all her life, until her senior year when they decide to spend one whole year at a high school in Stockton, North Carolina in order to get Blue into Harvard. Blue finds herself sucked up into a strange small social group by the maneuverings of the enigmatic film teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when Hannah Schneider is found dead (allegedly a suicide), Blue takes on the mysterious life and death of her former teacher armed only with her wit and cultural lexicon (I actually have no idea what “cultural lexicon” really means, I merely stole it from the back of the book)
Ok, this is an exciting story. As I mentioned at the beginning it’s not a clean story. It’s also a weird story. I can’t get over Blue and her father’s relationship and conversation. He sounds excruciatingly impressed with himself and their overly witty repartee doesn’t sound natural to me.
So, why did I read this book you might ask? Well, wouldn’t you read a book with that name? I think I picked it up (at Goodwill) and bought it because the title of the book gripped me. I mean, isn’t that just the craziest title you’ve ever heard?
You may want to know why I kept reading it. Well, so do I. I guess because the mystery was so gripping. If the mystery is mysterious enough I have a compulsion to know the end. At the end; however, I’m not sure I knew much more than I did at the beginning, though there were some serious surprises. I mean, you know why Hannah died, and you know the people involved in her death, but the story leaves you feeling a little incomplete. So, I can't say it was a fulfilling read.
The one good thing about this book was the interesting main character and her relationship with her father. Though it was hard for the author to convince me that this was an actual seventeen year old interacting with her father, I did somewhat enjoy their wordplay. I did find her a little bratty at times, but the father was so unpleasant I couldn’t quite find it in my heart to feel sorry for him. It's not a relationship I would want to have with my own parents, but it was oddly fascinating.
Overall, I think it was one to skip despite the interesting title and pretty catchy mystery.