Book Review: The Theory of Everything by Kari Luna

The Theory of Everything
by Kari Luna
July 11, 2013
Philomel
320 pages
Source: Around the World ARC Tours

Synopsis

One part Libba Bray’s GOING BOVINE, two parts String Theory, and three parts love story equals a whimsical novel that will change the way you think about the world.

Sophie Sophia is obsessed with music from the late eighties. She also has an eccentric physicist father who sometimes vanishes for days and sees things other people don’t see. But when he disappears for good and Sophie’s mom moves them from Brooklyn, New York, to Havencrest, Illinois, for a fresh start, things take a turn for the weird. Sophie starts seeing things, like marching band pandas, just like her dad.

Guided by Walt, her shaman panda, and her new (human) friend named Finny, Sophie is determined to find her father and figure out her visions, once and for all. So she travels back to where it began—New York City and NYU’s physics department. As she discovers more about her dad’s research on M-theory and her father himself, Sophie opens her eyes to the world’s infinite possibilities—and her heart to love.

Perfect for fans of Going Bovine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Probability of Miracles. (Goodreads Summary.)


*This is an ARC review.
Any excerpts or quotes are taken from an unfinished text and may change before the final print*




Opening Line

Once I saw a guy’s heart roll right off his sleeve.



My Take On It

So freaking much to love about this book, you guys. Not going to lie: the first thing that hooked me was this phrase from above:

Look, I’m old. Like recently graduated from my third decade old (But I am still a firm believer that 40 is the new 20…) so ANYTIME 80s music, film, or pop culture is a theme in a book I am usually in like Flynn. And late 80s music? Even better. And I am going to straight up tell you that the music references in this book ROCKED.

(Which then devolved into my lamenting that I cannot attend this year’s Lollapalooza…)

In other words, I’m a fan of late 80s music. Did you read Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park and love the music? Then you will TOTALLY appreciate Kari Luna’s  music selections in The Theory of Everything.

But it’s not just the music or the fact that the main character Sophie Sophia is sort of obsessed with all things 80s (No Cd’s or mp3s for this girl, she rocks an old school Walkman:)) The Theory of Everything takes something as out there as theoretical physics and makes it hip and cool.  Another theme I always enjoy in the books I read? Art. And although no one is described as being an artist in this book, the descriptions of Sophie’s father’s many experiments are very installation art-y in feel.

So, music references, check. Science references for the inner geek in me, check. And subtle nods at art themes, check. In other words, this is a total “Heather” book.

(Ok, enough fangirling, on to the serious review part:)

As you can read in the above synopsis, Sophie Sophia is not your average girl. She’s left of center, and just fine with that. As a matter of a fact, she is pretty wise for a 14 year old girl. So much so that I keep thinking she was much older as I read. She has been living with her mom since her father disappeared a few years earlier. Her mother has uprooted and moved her around quite a bit before she finally lands in Havencrest, Illinois. But don’t feel too sorry for her because Sophie lets stuff like that roll off her with relative ease. In fact, one of the parts I love most about her character are her “How To”  lists. Check out Kari Luna’s website and read Sophie’s “How to Survive (Possible) Interdemensional Travel” list to see what I mean:)

And even luckier for Sophie, on her first day of school (a very Smalltown, USA type school) she meets a kindred soul named Finny, who is an ABSOLUTELY AMAZING character, and who becomes her best friend. But more on Finny in a bit.

But there is more to Sophie than meets the eye. First off, there is some family drama. See, dad didn’t just take off when Sophie was a kid, he literally DISAPPEARED. Sophie has not heard from him since that fateful night he kissed her goodbye and walked out the door. And the thing is, Sophie and her dad were SUPER tight. As an only child, Sophie’s dad absolutely worshipped his daughter. And to Sophie her dad was her best friend.

But Sophie’s dad wasn’t like a normal dad. He was a theoretical physicist and about as eccentric as they come. Some of Sophie’s most beloved memories are when her dad’s eccentricity was in full effect. Because he was, for a young child, the most fun dad, ever.

The upstairs neighbor gave me one of her Catholic charms–Our Lady of Sorrow–and I pressed that thing in my palm so hard it left a mark. I wasn’t sure why the lady was sorry, but I knew why I was–my best friend was gone. I wrote Dad letters and even though I never heard from him, I still missed him. He used to make flowers out of paper and waltz around in wacky hats while sharing his newest theory about cupcakes and quantum. “Angelino, stop it,” Mom would say. “You’re scaring her.” But I saw the ends of her mouth curl up when she said it, like she was trying not to laugh. Mom wanted me to stay grounded. But how could I when Dad was always lifting me up?

Unfortunately there was a dark side to this type of behavior, and as Sophie flashes back to her childhood memories of her dad, this side rapidly leads to dangerous situations.

As you might imagine, Sophie’s feelings about her dad are all over the place. On the one hand she is angry that her dad left and hasn’t contacted her. But on the other hand she is just sad and misses him terribly. Sophie’s love of 80’s music, for example, is a direct connection to her dad who used to make fantastic 80’s mixed tapes.

If this was the entire story it would be an awfully compelling read in and of itself, but there is MORE. On top of the family drama, Sophie has a secret. A big one. She sees things, things like inanimate objects coming to life. And even cooler, she travels places. Like to a grocery store where  the musician Sting serenades her or lands onstage at a Cure concert circa 1980-something where she is the lead guitarist to Robert Smith’s vocals:

Blue lights went up, the crowd completely freaked, and Robert Smith turned around and smiled–smudged red lipstick and all. I was onstage with The Cure.

(Dude, that was the COOLEST freaking scene EVER! Did I mention I have seen The Cure in concert three times??? Moving on…. )

And when she has these episodes she loses time only to “wake up” back in her own time with a “souvenir”, something she brings back from wherever she goes when she “travels.”

Ok, let’s get this out there: Sophie is not mentally disturbed. She’s not schizophrenic and what she is seeing aren’t hallucinations. And it turns out that this “traveling” may be yet another connection she shares with her dad.  As Sophie discovers, she may actually be traveling to parallel universes (see, this is where all that cool theoretical physics stuff comes in.)

For those of you who have been following along and are now thinking “Uh, this may be too much…” STOP RIGHT THERE. Look I like books that deal with time travel and parallel universes (and there seem to be more and more of them lately, am I right?), but I admit that sometimes they confuse the HECK out me.

However,  at no time in my reading of The Theory Of Everything did I ever feel lost or even confused. Not even  when Sophie meets talking pandas in a alternate world inhabited by nothing but talking pandas (they are unbelievably cool, by the way.) In fact,  it was just the opposite. I was RIVETED. I wanted to know more. More about string theory and M-theory and more about Stephen Hawking’s views on The Theory of Everything. I was utterly fascinated. I am an art/ literature/ history kind of girl. Math and some of the higher sciences usually go right over my head.  Who knew that physics could be so much fun? 🙂

Guys, The Theory of Everything  is one of the most imaginative and creative books I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time. I was completely caught up in Sophie’s story, completely engrossed in her quest to learn more about her dad and why she sees what she sees.

What about characters? Well, did I mention Finny? Best book bestie ever! You know I love my secondary characters, and Finny has got to be one of the most endearing I have read. I dare you to not fall for him too.  He is intensely loyal, super smart, very generous, not to mention witty and playful (he has the most AWESOME tree house where he goes to relax,) in other words, he is the perfect companion to help Sophie with her quest. And here is some insider info: Author Kari Luna told me that Finny is based on a real person. There is a real life Finny out there somewhere. That just makes me smile even harder:)

While there is a sweet romance storyline with a very adorable James Dean-ish boy, it’s the family and friendship themes in this book that really stand out. It is a coming of age story wrapped up in a creative package, but it also a fabulous look at connections between people. Connections of the romantic variety; connections between a daughter and her mother and a daughter and her father; and connections between two friends that are truly two sides of the same coin.  These type of connections are what makes this not only a great ‘voyage of self discovery’ type book, but also a really fantastic feel good read too.

So you see, I can’t recommend this book enough. If you are looking for a book that is fresh and different and breaks away from the typical YA magical/supernatural-ish storyline;  a book that is smart but not so high brow that you are completely lost; and a book that will leave you with a big old grin on your face because the characters are just plain FUN to read about then you MUST give this book a shot.*Oh, and young at heart readers that are fans of old school alternative music, like me, will definitely want to read this simply for the nostalgic song selections Kari Luna adds to the book too:) And check this out: you can download one of Kari’s mixtapes on her site too!  What kind of songs will you find? The Smiths, Love and Rockets, Joy Division, New Order and U2 to name a few:)