Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson

What is it we have here?  YA?  Wow, do any of you even remember back in the jolly good old days when I was reviewing YA here on the old blog?  This year has been stunningly lacking in YA, not intentionally, for sure, but lacking nonetheless.  The sad fact that I haven't reviewed a book that wasn't written for adults since March (horrors!) made the opportunity to read and review The Theory of Everything positively glowy with possibility.  Especially since it's got all the things about YA that I best love.

Sarah Jones is not the girl she used to be.  Ever since she lost her best friend Jamie in a freak accident at school, Sarah hasn't been herself.  She doesn't care about her grades or being social.  Her normal conversational skills have been lost to a "snark box" that alienates what few people aren't already to intimidated to talk to her.  She's riddled with guilt, and nobody seems to get how to handle her or understands what a gaping hole exists in her life.  When not attempting to sustain her fragile relationship with her boyfriend Stenn on the weekends he's home from private school, watching movies with her dog, Ruby, is about all Sarah's interested in doing. 

Things are about to start changing for Sarah when yet another bizarre incident occurs in the school gym where Jamie died.  The incident sets a wheel in motion that soon has Sarah becoming friends with a strange man with a possum for a pet and dodging her parents to go do backbreaking labor on a Christmas tree farm.  And, all the while, Jamie's brother Emmett desperately wants to know the circumstances behind his sister's death, and the only who can tell him is the only other person who was there - Sarah.

The Theory of Everything got off to a bit of a rough start for me.  It seemed that maybe Johnson was trying a little too hard, in the opening chapters, to create this quirky, troubled teen voice. Sarah's first few chapters of narration seem forced and a little unbelievable.  Thankfully, though, it doesn't take the narrative too long to hit its stride, and Sarah emerges as a likeable character who's struggling and failing to keep it all together.  She's snarky and damaged and frustrating to her parents, her boyfriend, and her brother but can't seem to emerge from the cloud of grief and anger that makes her feel too guilty and misunderstood to plug back into the world without Jamie.  As the pages go by, Sarah becomes more and more sympathetic as she finally starts down the path to healing.

I really enjoyed The Theory of Everything which reminded me of one of Sarah Dessen's books, The Truth About Forever, but with more creative flair.  Both feature a lovable main character struggling to recover from tragedy, strangers who turn up to lend a helping hand, and an odd job that provides a dose of clarity.  Both pack the emotional punch that makes the best contemporary YA hurt so good.  Sarah's a little more edgy than Dessen's Macy - she's got that snarky edge, is nerdily addicted to Star Wars movies, and has a talent for clever graphs and drawings that lead off each chapter proving to be both amusing and illuminating.

Like this one (click to embiggen):

If you loved The Truth About Forever, you'll definitely want to give The Theory of Everything a try.  If you haven't read either of them, but still enjoy some good contemporary YA fiction, you should probably consider reading both of these excellent novels. ;-)

Thanks to Emily at Peachtree Publishers for providing me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.  Check out Peachtree's blog to see the other stops on The Theory of Everything tour.


  1. I got this one too, I might just pick it up tonight, it looks good!

  2. I love contemporary YA, so I'll definitely be checking this one out. I've got THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER out from the library right now, but I still haven't gotten around to it. So many books, so little time ...