Lauren Chambers: 'Spontaneous' isn't for the faint of heart

Lauren Chambers: 'Spontaneous' isn't for the faint of heart


High school can be hard. You have to decide what to do with your life. You make plans that will affect you for decades. You navigate between what you want to do, what your parents want you to do and what everyone thinks you can do. It can feel like a lot of pressure.

But for Mara and her friends, Dylan and Tess, seniors at Covington High and the main characters in "Spontaneous," by Aaron Starmer, it's even harder when a classmate blows up in the middle of pre-calc. A short time later, another student blows up and then another. The only thing the victims have in common is that they are all members of the senior class of Covington High School and they have spontaneously combusted.

Nobody knows when, why or how it will happen again. There's no discernable pattern. But it's got the town of Covington and the nation on edge. Is it the drugs some students take? A punishment from God? Government conspiracy? New evolutionary mutation? No one knows.

But as students keep exploding, the town struggles to redefine normal and how to stay safe. Should the senior class be quarantined? Are they dangerous or will getting them as far from Covington as they can save them?

In the middle of everything, Mara, Dylan and Tess try to live with knowing that at any moment, they could be the one to go boom.

Narrated by Mara and her horribly hilarious sense of humor, Starmer explores how a dangerous mystery captivates and terrifies a town and the government investigating it. Mara deals with the possibility she could explode at any time by making dark jokes that are funny but often highly inappropriate. She also tries to cope in ways that are sometimes constructive but are more often harmful rather than helpful. Essentially, she acts like a real person. Mara gets scared, acts out and makes mistakes. She's no angel, but she also makes plans for the future and tries to keep everyone around her sane. She keeps moving.

At the heart of the story is Mara's journey to piece together a life worth living when everything has fallen apart and the next moment could be her last. There's no set path about what that life should look like or a guidebook she can use. Mara stumbles her way through.

"Spontaneous" isn't for the faint of heart; it's dark and gory. People make awful decisions and pay for them. Bad things happen to good and bad people. But it's also funny and quirky. You won't leave it feeling like everything is horribly doomed, but you won't be filled with warm fuzzies either. Life is messy in here. And you're along for the ride.

Lauren Chambers is an adult and youth-services librarian at the Urbana Free Library. As a self-identified "geek," she enjoys reading science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.

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