Author: Aaron Starmer

Grade: B

“Sure, I realize a few of you have applied early decision but do you think any college will admit us now that we’re tarnished goods? They can’t discriminate because of race, religion, or gender, but how about combustibility?”

Mara Carlyle is just going about a pretty normal senior year until one day a classmate spontaneously combusts. Then it happens again. And again. Until this one poor senior class has an epidemic on their hands that no one knows quite what to do about or how to stop.

There are some spoilers in this review but it’s mostly for something that doesn’t happen:

How badly do you need answers?

For me that depends on the story but in this case yeah, I wanted to know why this was happening. Lots of theories are thrown around but there’s never any answer. Worse than that the book adds another mystery that goes unanswered before the end. (That one wasn’t such a big deal. I’d have been fine making up my own answer there if they had answered what was causing the blow-ups.) So yeah, I needed an answer and it kind of annoys me that we didn’t get one.

Otherwise this book is pretty interesting. It’s a good premise. It’s a good coming of age drama/comedy where the kids actually don’t know if they’re going to come of age and no adult is able to help them. They are mostly just scared or sorry for them.

Mara’s character bugged me in some places mainly with her romance. She’s not the nicest person in the world or the book and for a little bit I thought she could have been causing the combustions. She did sound painfully human. Messed up. Funny. Smart. Very much aware of her own foibles and issues. But it does kind of get on your nerves. There are a few times where I wanted to be like you should really be doing or thinking about something else then your boyfriends old possible girlfriend don’t you think?

I wasn’t big on the romance though on that point the ending saved it for me- I hate to admit. I did appreciate the seniors version of “school at the end of the world,” time.

There’s also this whole FBI character that really went nowhere. Mara’s kind of obsessed with her for a while and she seems like a good person whose actually trying to help but then the character pretty much unravels and she becomes fairly pointless. Except to maybe say you can’t trust Mara’s view of things or people all that well but by that point that’s fairly obvious.

FYI there’s drug use and drinking (which gets heavier as it goes on- as I imagine might happen when everyone around you is exploding) a lot of it by Mara. Also a bit of sex. The whole thing is played for uncomfortable laughs at first. Mara even says she knows she’s being inappropriate at times but what can you do. As the deaths go on though the story definitely gets darker and a kind of end of the world partying ramps up.

Recommend: 50/50 Spontaneous is has an interesting premise and characters but I wish there had been some answers. In the end, for me, it felt like it just kind of petered off without really going anywhere.

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