Synopses & Reviews
This mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a darkly hilarious coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide or misguide her.
Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class and containing ironic visual aids (drawn by the author), Pessl's debut novel is complex yet compelling, erudite yet accessible. It combines the suspense of Hitchcock, the self-parody of Dave Eggers, and the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt with a dazzling intelligence and wit entirely Pessl's own.
"Pessl's stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course 36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The 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 made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl's tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring." Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
"Anything familiar about this hip, ambitious and imaginative book is easily overshadowed by its many pleasures....There are many wonderful young writers out there, but it's always refreshing to find another with such confidence, who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform." Los Angeles Times
"The novel is generating a great deal of buzz that will excite the curiosity of readers who enjoy postmodern excesses and indulgences of this sort." Booklist
"This blockbuster debut, over 500 pages chock-full of literary and pop cultural references and illustrations by Pessl herself, demands attention." People
"Witty and exuberant...part road-trip adventure, part idiosyncratic Great Books survey, with dashes of romantic comedy and murder mystery thrown in....Such pyrotechnics place the author alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith." Vogue
"All the stars seem aligned for the twenty-something author." Time.com
"Donna Tartt goes postmodern in this eclectically intellectual murder mystery....The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion....Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded." Kirkus Reviews
"The most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is
Illuminated." Janet Maslin, the New York Times
"Hip, ambitious and imaginative." Los Angeles Times
Place[s] the author alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith. (Vogue
Praise for Special Topics in Calamity Physics
and#8220;A whirling, glittering, multifaceted marvel, delivered in an irrepressibly smart and flamboyant new voice. . . . Q: Is Special Topics in Calamity Physics required reading for devotees of inventive new fiction? A: Yes.and#8221;
and#8212;Janet Maslin, The New York Times
and#8220;The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessland#8217;s tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring. . . . This skylarking book will leave readers salivating for more.and#8221;
and#8212;The New York Times Book Review
and#8220;A blockbuster debut.and#8221;
and#8212;People (Criticand#8217;s Choice)
and#8220;Gripping and dark, funny and poignant . . . Pessland#8217;s talent for verbal acrobatics keeps the pages flipping.and#8221;
and#8220;Witty and exuberant . . . Pessland#8217;s pyrotechnics place her alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith.and#8221;
and#8220;Hip, ambitious, and imaginative . . . Itand#8217;s always refreshing to find a writer who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform.and#8221;
and#8212;Los Angeles Times
and#8220;A frisky, smarty-pants debut . . . An escapist extravaganza packed with literary and pop culture allusions, mischievous characterizations, erotic intrigue, murders, and unstoppable narrative energy.and#8221;
and#8220;Extravagant, witty and dark, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a sprawling campus novel, an intricate murder mystery, a coming-of-age tale and a sly satire of intellectualism and academia. Her prose is . . . vivid, erupting in a freefall of wordplay, wisecracks, encyclopedia tidbits, and a barrage of cultural references. . . . Her enthusiasm for language is a delight.and#8221;
and#8220;There is a voice here to like, part Huck Finn, part Holden Caulfield, part Fran Leibowitz, and part Nora Ephron.and#8221;
and#8220;A real novel, one of substance and breadth, with an arresting story and that rarest of delights, a great ending.and#8221;
and#8220;Special Topics in Calamity Physics made me stay up all night reading; in the morning it seemed like one of those parties where everyone is too cool for you but you desperately want to know them anyway. It reminded me of my lost, bad-girl days. I loved this book.and#8221;
and#8212;Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time Travelerand#8217;s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry
and#8220;Beneath the foam of this exuberant debut is a dark, strong drink.and#8221;
and#8212;Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections and Freedom
Praise for Unbecoming
—The New York Times Book Review
“From the first page, you know Rebecca Scherm is the real thing. Unbecoming is an assured exploration of the intricate, intense, risky processes that go into creating identity—and into dismantling it.”
“Rebecca Scherms extraordinarily confident voice and style, this novels depth of detail—great characters and a terrifically engaging plot—are a sheer delight to read. There is something very fresh and captivating about this book, and best of all I had no idea what was going to happen from one page to the next.”
“Unbecoming is the story of a heist, and especially what happens afterwards. No one thinks beyond the maps and the timetables and the moment of sale, its narrator tells us, but Rebecca Scherm has done just that, showing us the tense, suspenseful aftermath of an unraveled plan. Unbecoming is a novel of voice, invention, and momentum, as tautly plotted as any Hitchcock movie and focused on the central question any lover and any jewel thief must eventually ask: How do you tell whats fake from whats real?”
—Karen Joy Fowler
“‘Self-assured doesnt begin to describe the skill with which Rebecca Scherm develops her central character—Grace—and the tangled web she weaves, which is her life itself. Its a completely compelling read from start to finish, beautifully researched and brilliantly constructed. I loved it.”
“Some characters who go bad find that its against their nature, and some who go bad discover that dishonesty is the central truth about themselves. Rebecca Scherms wonderful novel Unbecoming has a mesmerizing narrator, Grace, who discovers that her gift (and it is a real gift) is for deceit. A thriller, a psychological study, and a love story, this novel is an unusually intelligent and suspenseful book. The dark arts have rarely been so brightly lit.”
“Artfully constructed and beautifully nuanced, Unbecoming is an elegant, page-turning mystery of theft, betrayal, and young love, which brilliantly reveals that the very worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves.”
“Scherms debut has a plot that twists and turns, but it is the enigma of who Grace really is that will keep readers hooked until the very end. A bleak tone, deeply flawed protagonist, and dysfunctional relationships will draw well-deserved comparisons to Gillian Flynn.”
“Scherm mixes a character study with caper novel full of double-crosses, lies, and betrayals.”
"Part Dead Poet's Society. Part Heathers. Entirely addictive."
"A smoldering mystery set in a New England prep school... The author skillfully ratchets up the tension as Iris (and the reader) finds it harder and harder to tell who the good guys are... A gripping thrill ride thats also a thoughtful coming-of-age story."
--Kirkus Reviews "In this engrossing novel, a would-be journalist unearths scandalous secrets at her prep school with the help of a famous reporters ghost."
--O Magazine "A coming of age page-turner."
—Library Journal "Hysterical and moving, The Year of the Gadfly fuses Special Topics in Calamity Physics with Portnoy's Complaint for girls. This book is an imaginative delight."
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story "A dark, whirling, and compelling read. The Year of the Gadfly is a hilarious and heartbreaking story about friendship, acceptance, and trust — the way our search for them shapes our youth and how that search can haunt us forever."
—Jennifer Close, author of Girls in White Dresses "This novel has so much going for it: the feisty, heartbroken heroine, the ghost of Edward R. Murrow, and a fascinating love story between an albino girl and a gifted young scientist. In a brilliant portrayal of the dark underbelly of adolescence, Miller explores a time when both our identity and our future are at stake, and shows how rare it is to leave that landscape unscathed."
—Ann Napolitano, author of Within Arm's Reach and A Good Hard Look "It's hard to resist any novel whose young journalist heroine hallucinates that she's in conversation with Edward R. Murrow. But Jennifer Miller has also written a book with the feel of real life—part science experiment, part mystery story, part a coming-of-age narrative sorting out the truth about one's friends and enemies."
—David Ignatius, author of Bloodmoney "Jennifer Miller is a writer of exceptional promise, with instincts that are equally astute for insight into character, innovative structure, memorable phrasing, and startling plot turns that compel the reader to read on. In The Year of the Gadfly, her literary gifts are on virtuoso display; readers will be drawn deeply into this narrative and never want to leave it!"
—Carol Goodman, author of The Lake of the Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water
"Darkly funny...compulsively readable..." --People "A novel to make you laugh, cringe, and appreciate your mother." --O, the Oprah Magazine
"Debut author Norton, the great-great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, writes fearlessly, and the results are compelling. Reading this novel is like watching a train speed toward you, and youre paralyzed on the tracks
“Despite the sweet title, this debut novel by Ashley Prentice Norton is a dark tale of maternal sadism, twisted sex, and self-destruction. Norton is a fearless writer.”
— James Frey, author of Bright Shiny Morning
"I am not a reader easily shocked, and I was shocked by the brave twists and daring turns of Ashley Norton's compulsively readable The Chocolate Money. This story of a girl coming of age in Chicago, heir to a chocolate fortune and all the spoils and hungers that fortune sparks, is fearless and utterly unputdownable."
— Jennifer Gilmore, author of Something Red and Golden Country
"Not since Mommy Dearest has there been a transcription of a complex mother-daughter relationship as powerful. I rooted with all my heart for this girl. Ashley Prentice Nortons writing is so gripping, vivid, and moving — so realistically drawn — it leaves even the most well-adjusted reader with the chilling knowledge of what its like to be raised by wolves. The Chocolate Money is devastating and unforgettable."
— Isabel Gillies, author of Happens Every Day and A Year and Six Seconds
"The Chocolate Money is the perfect page-turner, offering a window into the life of the richer-than-rich, complete with scandalous sex, wild parties, a snobby prep school, and a tyrannical train-wreck of a mother. But it's also something more—its a perceptive portrait of a young woman growing past the world that shaped her. Norton writes with empathy and wisdom about mothers and daughters, and the pain of loving a parent you must escape."
-- Jill A. Davis, author of Ask Again Later
“This is the darkest comedy I've ever read, overflowing with unflinching observations of the elite that are both laugh-out-loud and heart-wrenchingly poignant, all woven with the searing wit of a truly gifted new voice in fiction.”
—Jill Kargman, author of Wolves in Chic Clothing
Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, this mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction.
The mesmerizing New York Times bestseller by the author of Night Film
Marisha Pessland#8217;s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center ofand#160;Special Topics in Calamity Physicsand#160;is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds someand#151;a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this noveland#151;with visual aids drawn by the authorand#151;that has won over readers of all ages.
Startlingly inventive.” The New York Times Book Review
A major debut novel of psychological suspense about a daring art heist, a cat-and-mouse waiting game, and a small-town girl's mesmerizing transformation
On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says shes from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, shes in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went badbut not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Graces web of deception and lies unravelsand she becomes another young woman entirely.
Unbecoming is an intricately plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel that turns on suspense and slippery identity. With echoes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Rebecca Scherms mesmerizing debut is sure to entrance fans of Gillian Flynn, Marisha Pessl, and Donna Tartt.
"This terrific first novel is a twisted thriller set at a private school where bad things happen to teens on a leafy campus. Part Dead Poets Society, part Heathers. Entirely addictive."—Glamour
“Do you know what it took for Socrates enemies to make him stop pursuing the truth?”
Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom's Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.
Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devils Advocate, the Partys underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the schools new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter's instinct, and her own troubled past.
The Year of the Gadfly is an exhilarating journey of double-crosses, deeply buried secrets, and the lifelong reverberations of losing someone you love. Following in the tradition of classic school novels such as A Separate Peace, Prep, and The Secret History, it reminds us how these years haunt our lives forever.
The story of the daughter of a glamorous chocolate heiress who must navigate a complex landscape of wealth, sex, and decadence through a privileged childhood in Chicago and an East Coast prep school, with only her narcissistic mother to guide her.
As addictive, decadent and delicious as chocolate itself
Set in 1980s Chicago and on the East Coast, this electric debut chronicles the relationship between an impossibly rich chocolate heiress, Babs Ballentyne, and her sensitive and bookish young daughter, Bettina. Babs plays by no one’s rules: naked Christmas cards, lavish theme parties with lewd installations at her Lake Shore Drive penthouse, nocturnal visits from her married lover, who “admires her centerfold” while his wife sleeps at their nearby home.
Bettina wants nothing more than to win her mother’s affection and approval, both of which prove elusive. When she escapes to an elite New Hampshire prep school, Bettina finds that her unorthodox upbringing makes it difficult to fit in with her peers, one of whom happens to be the son of Babs’s lover. As she struggles to forge an identity apart from her mother, Bettina walks a fine line between self-preservation and self-destruction.
As funny as it is scandalous, The Chocolate Money is Mommie Dearest, Prep, and 50 Shades of Gray all rolled into one compulsively readable book.
About the Author
Marisha Pessl graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University.