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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Special Topics in Calamity Physics » User review

Not every student is slightly above average

  • Apr 18, 2012
Rating:
+1
I remember reading glowing reviews of this book when it was published a few years ago, but now that I finally got around to reading I find myself merely whelmed.  While the writing is sometimes fresh, funny, and stimulating, too often it over-reaches to strained, stilted, and densely over-thought.

Blue Van Meer is the only daughter of widowed college professor Gareth; her childhood was an extended back-road tour of backwater colleges where Dad taught politics, public policy, and foreign affairs to moderately-interested students, but mostly taught Blue a love of reading and quoting the classics on lonely stretches of interstate.  While it sounds cute, the repeated literary, movie, and academic references, some real, some fictional, becomes a strained crutch.  

For her senior year of high school, Dad has settled down to a single town for the academic year so Blue can concentrate on her studies, winning valedictorian of her class, and getting accepted into Harvard.  However, Blue falls in with the "Blueblood" crowd and their favorite teacher and weekend friend Hannah Schneider, and moderately troublesome things start to occur--which are only moderately interesting to the reader.

If this is a mystery, which it in effect turns out to be, it takes a very long while to start, and grinds out to the end without building any must-finish momentum, what with all the overtired literary references and academic asides.  The writing is good, and Blue is a sometimes engaging character, it’s the story that left me flat.

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More Special Topics in Calamity Phy... reviews
review by . January 25, 2007
It's quite obvious that a lot of learning went into the writing of this book. There are other works scattered throughout the text, all of which connect in some way to the topic being discussed. For a while the reader really doesn't know what's happening, but as the novel progresses, the basic plot becomes a bit more clear, until the shocking twist very near the end. The author is quite a talented writer, and I certainly intend to read any further works she produces!
review by . January 22, 2007
There is a genuine story here, with real characters (see Linda Segar, Creating Unforgettable Characters, Owl 1999). You care about them in the midst of, or perhaps in spite of, the incessant interruptions that litter the book like glacial moraines (see Douglas I. Benn and David J. A. Evans, Glaciers and Glaciation , Arnold, 1999). The story lingers in my mind, as any good story should. My hat is off to any person who can use macumba as a verb (see p. 61, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Penguin …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #37
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Starred Review.Pessl's stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course—36 chapters are named after everything fromOthellotoParadise LosttoThe Big Sleep—that culminates with a final exam. It comes as no surprise, then, that teen narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation that makes Salinger's Seymour Glass look like a dunce. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, embark, in another nod to Nabokov, on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn't bode well for Blue's social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue's senior year, she befriends—sort of—a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place. Like its intriguing main characters, this novel is many things at once—it's a campy, knowing take on the themes that madeThe Secret HistoryandPrepsuch massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon ...
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ISBN-10: 067003777X
ISBN-13: 978-0670037773
Author: Marisha Pessl
Publisher: Viking Adult

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