Book Review: Spontaneous

Title: Spontaneous

Author: Aaron Starmer

Genre: YA / Coming of Age / Humour

Pages: 368

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Senior year is normally busy with exams, prom, and yearbook committees – but for Mara Carlyle her main concern is preventing herself from blowing up. 

When the first girl, Katelyn, blows up, it’s just a crazy accident that lands all the other kids in a group counselling session. But soon there are teenagers blowing up constantly – it’s an epidemic that attracts the attention of the rest of the world. 

Having witnessed nearly all of the combustions, Mara navigates her explosive senior year with a dark sense of humour. There’s romance, quarantine, lifelong friendship, hallucinogenic mushrooms,  ice cream trucks, and “Snooze Button™”.

But beneath all of the madness and outrageous humour, this story is about being a teenager in the 21st century, and the heartache of saying goodbye.

When I received my ARC of Spontaneous I was surprised to find that my copy had arrived with a yellow poncho and a warning; this book may blow your brains.

Excellent, I thought, and quickly donned my poncho. Just the kind of book I’ve been looking for.

Spontaneous certainly started off with a bang. In third period pre-calc things are going along quite normally until Katelyn suddenly explodes. Most of the seniors in the class are left with bloody bits of their former classmate on their faces, clothes, and, yup – their teeth. As you can imagine, they are all in need of some serious counselling – but things just get worse when a boy blows up in the group therapy session. 

“Here’s what happens when a guy blows up during your group therapy session that’s supposed to make you feel better about people blowing up. The group therapy session is officially cancelled. You do not feel better.”

With such an explosive introduction, I was immediately drawn into the story. Spontaneous is narrated from the perspective of Mara – a sassy, blunt, and opinionated senior student. I really enjoyed reading from her perspective, but I’m gonna put it out there that some of you may not like her too much.

Her response to her classmates blowing up is humour. She copes with a horrible situation by making ridiculous jokes about it – and with alcohol, hallucinogens, and sex. She’s definitely not a role-model, but she sure is an interesting and multidimensional character. 

I think you sort of have to be the right kind of person to get the humour in this book. Either you’ll be totally repulsed by the whole thing, or you’ll find yourself laughing out loud in certain parts of the book and then telling yourself to stop – because you really shouldn’t be laughing about a bunch of teenagers spontaneously combusting, should you? 

(But it’s okay to laugh about it while reading Spontaneous, I promise) 

There aren’t too many books out there about spontaneous combustion, and so I was super-excited to pick up a YA novel on the topic. I love the way that it wasn’t just an isolated incident, but an epidemic that attracted speculation from all around the world. Was it terrorism that caused the explosions? Or was it just some kind of divine punishment for teenage shennanigans – sex, drugs, and alcohol? Perhaps it was all a metaphor for dealing with life as a teenager. Things can get pretty crazy, and this story shows the way that different people cope with grief, and shows that there is always a chance to make a difference in the world we live in. 

I really loved the friendship between Mara and Tess. Books with solid female friendships definitely hit the mark for me. The two girls have been friends for most of their lives and their friendship was rock-solid, sweet, and fun. They had mix-tapes to sing/scream to loudly in the car,  and they had dreams of growing old together and forever sitting on the sand and in the sun. Mara’s relationship with Dylan does nothing to subdue their friendship, and the trio join up with FBI Agent Carla Rosetti to try to get to the bottom of the combustions.

I was a little disappointed with the way that Tess eventually drifted out of the main narrative – she kind of just disappears from the central story with little explanation. However I think it’s awesome that there’s such a strong group of kick-ass female characters in this story. They all have their quirks and their downfalls, but some of them are totally badass. 

For me the only thing that let Spontaneous down is the ending. While I appreciate a bit of mystery and the fact that life is never wrapped up neatly, I felt like there were just too many questions left unanswered at the end of this book. Most of the second half of the story meandered without a lot of purpose, and I waited enthusiastically for a revelation that I never received.

Overall I really enjoyed reading Spontaneous. I loved the characters, found the humour very entertaining, and the whole premise of spontaneous combustion really fascinating. Spontaneous deals with friendship, love, and loss, and it’s a crazy ride. This is is a fun and thought-provoking read, filled with opinionated, angsty teens who are just trying to deal with life and a whole lot of explosions. 

2 thoughts

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s