cover image Spontaneous


Aaron Starmer. Dutton, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-42974-6

Seniors at Covington High School are spontaneously combusting in one gloriously gory explosion after another, and it doesn’t take long for the FBI to descend on the New Jersey town to figure out what is going on. Is it terrorism? A curse? At the heart of Starmer’s story is Mara Carlyle, a senior who witnesses the first combustion up close in precalc. Mara’s blunt, sarcastic narration is well-matched to the absurdity of the plot, and while it’s tempting to think of it as a defense mechanism in response to an unbelievable situation, it seems clear that this is just who Mara is. Her lengthy internal monologues, while entertaining, can frustrate the story’s momentum and make Mara seem more like an observer and chronicler of the mayhem, rather than a participant, despite her proximity to several of the explosions. This aside, Starmer (the Riverman trilogy) adeptly uses his bloody, madcap premise to heighten just how much of life is out of our control, and how important it is to seize whatever time we’re given. Ages 14–up. Agent: Michael Bourret, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (Aug.)