I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This book has a lot going for it. I went into this novel not knowing much about it, and was blown away by the originality of the concept. A town where teenagers begin spontaneously combusting? Well, you have caught my attention right there! The author really caught the voice of Mara, and there was a great balance between humour and the not-so-humorous concept of kids blowing up. However, the plot petered out about halfway through and I couldn’t find my flow with this book again.
Now, I usually keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but there are some vague spoilers in this review, so if you want to be really surprised when you read this book, be warned.
Mara is a senior when one of her classmates blows up right before her eyes. Soon, kids are blowing up all over Covington. At school, at parties, at home, in cars. It’s a tragedy, a mystery, a curse – the Covington Curse. The police get involved, the President is sending messages of goodwill, reporters are flocking to Covington, but nobody can figure out how to stop the curse. It seems like all the youth of Covington are destined to a gory end. As if this isn’t bad enough, school has been closed down for safety reasons, Covington has become a quarantine town, and the senior students are pariahs in their own town. Can Mara get to the bottom of the curse, and will she survive?
The first half of this book was so much fun. This is going to sound really weird, but Starmer had a really great way of making these repeated cases of spontaneous combustion sound hilarious. Mara is a sarcastic, cynical girl with wit deserving of a daytime chat show. I loved reading her comments on the situation, her descriptions of the different people around town, and her crude sense of humour. However, at around the halfway point, understandably, the story became less about people randomly blowing up and more about trying to figure out why. This was where, in my opinion, the book started to drift, until by the end, it was just a bit of a mess.
I think my main issue was that the issue of the curse was left unresolved. There was so much mystery around the curse, and there were so many different theories being thrown around, from the students, from the police, from journalists and every single other character in the novel, that it felt like the author had just decided he couldn’t be bothered to finish the storyline. The middle section of the book completely abandoned this story. Instead, we read chapters and chapters of the seniors of Covington getting their lives back on track by reopening their school and convincing teachers to come back to teach them. This was cute for a few chapters, but eventually, I wanted to get back to the real story. Why were people exploding? Towards the end, people started exploding all over the place again, which made me think we would get somewhere, but we didn’t. All of this drama had happened for no reason! I feel like Starmer maybe intended for readers to come away with a message of making the most of your lives, but really, I was just annoyed. I felt ripped off, like the first half of the novel was leading me to something, tempting me with the lure of plot twists and shocking revelations, only to take it away. It’s like when a TV show opens with a really exciting premise, but 5 seasons later you’re still waiting for the explanation to a story from the first series.
Overall, even though I was really annoyed by route that this book took, I gave it 3 stars because Mara’s voice was so funny. I felt like even though she was snarky and rude, it didn’t feel forced and two-dimensional like it does for other ‘tough girl’ characters in YA literature. Instead of feeling like a caricature, she just felt like a real life Daria character, and I loved that. I also loved that she didn’t feel like a stereotype. She wasn’t a loner, but she wasn’t the most popular, she was very flawed, and very funny. I want a TV show about Mara. Not necessarily this story, but definitely Mara.