Today’s post was written by guest blogger Donna Pierquet, a graduate of the Mount Mary College Writing master of arts in writing program:
The Theory of Everything by J.J. Johnson (Peachtree Publishers) $16.95
The world of a teenage girl is usually consumed by fashion, friends, and drama. When we meet Sarah Jones, she only has one of the three: drama. Sarah is on the fringe of society. Depressed, lonely, and fearful of the intense scrutiny she is under being the daughter of the superintendant of their small town’s school district, Sarah feels trapped and misunderstood. In J.J. Johnson’s novel The Theory of Everything, Sarah should be wearing a sign that says “handle with care” but instead those around her simply want her to move on after the tragic death of her best friend. Now her world is split between her fond memories of life before Jamie died and dealing with the guilt of being the one who lived.
Johnson delicately unravels the accidental and peculiar death of Jamie while introducing us to a complex and completely hilarious character in Sarah. This snarky and endearing girl ropes you into her heart quickly with her combination of Zoloft-infused wit and wisdom. Surrounded by adults who only want what’s best for her, none of them seem to see that what she really needs is the freedom to deal with grief in her own way. Always under the microscope in their small town, now she is being watched more than ever. As she skips school to lay on the grave of her best friend, Sarah believes she is all alone. But she is mistaken. Another bizarre incident in her school sets into motion Sarah crossing paths with a few new friends who bring her back into the world of the living. It is through this excavation of self that Sarah truly understands who she is and what she needs most in her world: friendship.
From the whimsical pencil illustrations at the start of each chapter, to the stereotypical high school classification of kids: Brains, Normals, or Ninjas, Johnson successfully illustrates the struggles of a teen dealing with depression while still battling the harsh criticism of her peers. The characters in Johnson’s novel are rich with small town flavor and it is easy to see why she revisited the same setting in her second novel. Sarah’s world is in a tailspin, and Johnson takes her readers on a crazy and page-turning ride through her heroine’s dark and twisted journey. We watch Sarah go from grief to what feels like normal: break-ups, sneaking out past curfew, and tapping kegs in the middle of the woods with the soccer team on a freezing Friday night.