The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik, by David Arnold

Noah HypnotikNoah and the Rosa-Haas twins have been best friends forever. It got a little complicated when Alan told Noah that he was gay, and then Noah fell in love with Valeria, but now all that is behind them, and they all work to maintain what Alan calls “the delicate triangle.” It’s the summer before their senior year, and the three plan to go on to local colleges in Illinois so that they can stay close.

Noah is conflicted. He may not even want to go to college. Lately, all he’s been doing is writing his summer assignment, “A Concise History of Me,” which is becoming less concise by the day, and obsessing over his Strange Fascinations. His fascinations include an abandoned photograph dropped by a local rock star, an old man in the neighborhood with a goiter, a novel by his favorite author, and an online video called the Fading Girl. In the video, a woman took a photo of herself in the same place every day for forty years. She fades. We fade.

Since he would never do so on his own, Val convinces him to go to a party in a huge home, where he makes the mistake of tasting a cherry Hurricane and deciding that it is really quite nice, which leads to another and another. This is how he finds himself explaining to a lovely girl that yes, he wears the exact same pants and David Bowie t-shirt every day because it is much more efficient to do so— plus, Bowie. When she backs away, he exclaims that no, no, he has ten sets of the same pants and t-shirts, so he does wash them in between. When this does not convince her of his sanity, he wanders off and ends up in the library, where he meets Circuit Lovelock.

Circuit and Noah have a deep and meaningful conversation in which they deplore the shallow and meaningless conversations one normally has at parties. In the end, Circuit convinces Noah that he needs a change in direction, which he can give him at his house. Despite his misgivings, and under the influence of cherry Hurricanes, Noah walks through the neighborhood with him, passing the old man with his collie, Abraham, on his front porch. At Circuit’s house, things get weird, and Noah gets up abruptly and leaves, passing the old man with his Labrador, Abraham. Wait….

Suddenly, the world has changed. Not a lot, but subtly. His mother has a scar on her cheek he doesn’t remember. Val and Alan are going out of state to college. His parents watch Seinfeld instead of Friends every night. What is going on? The only one who hasn’t changed is his little sister, Penny. She is still obsessed with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and walks around quoting Audrey Hepburn.

While the reader is working hard to untangle the clues and help Noah back to his former life, Arnold treats us to continual streams of what he calls “the minutiae”: loads of delicious details, some true, some imagined, that create Noah’s world and consciousness. He weaves it all together so convincingly that he had me looking up Mila Henry, Noah’s favorite author, so that I could read some of her books. No go; she’s a fictitious character. As in every David Arnold title, it’s not just the plot that pulls the reader along. It’s the quirky but lovable characters and his distinctive writing style that make his novels such immersive and unforgettable experiences. The language is frequently foul in the style of an uncensored sixteen-year-old boy.

Just as I swore that I would not read another young adult novel anytime soon, Penguin Random House sent out an email about this third novel by one of my favorite YA authors. I had to get my hands on it, and I was not disappointed. Noah’s library chat with Circuit was so delightful that I wish I could quote parts of it, but since I read an advance reader copy, that is verboten. So, I will paraphrase one part where Noah relates a conversation between Alan and another boy about a band. One loved it and one hated it. When Circuit asked Noah what he thought, he said that he thought it was just okay, which is apparently no longer acceptable. Not having a strong opinion about something is now “a lost art.” One must either love or hate everything, and he just doesn’t. Exactly. And that was the moment that I decided to have a strong opinion about this book. I loved it.

Very highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book, which I begged from my book distributor. It will be published in May, 2018. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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