by Larry Buhl
3 ½ Scribbles
Tyler Superanaskaia (it’s Russian) has spent the years since his mother’s death in foster care, or the “foster-go-round” as he calls it. Now Tyler is approaching graduation and that means starting his life post-foster-system exactly the way he’s always dreamed it: living on his own, attending Caltech and becoming a successful immunologist. Yet, in order to achieve these dreams, he must first earn money for his future living expenses, write an award-winning admissions essay and present an academic record that will earn him a scholarship. Will Tyler’s quirky personality and peculiar sense of “normal” get in the way of his dreams?
Told in a series of Tyler’s amusing lists, botched admissions essays and narration, the novel is carried largely through the strong sense of voice permeating each page. Tyler’s character is eccentric to say the least; his is so analytical that it is difficult for him to come down to the level of those who are less intelligent but more streetwise. He uses extremely advanced vocabulary when it is unwarranted, and he is so literal that he often misses the meanings of euphemisms—and yet, he has very clever and ironic nicknames for key people in his life. For instance, he calls his current foster parents, Carl and Janet “FoPas.” At times this dichotomy is confusing to the reader, at other times it is indicative of a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome or at the very least a symptom of living in homes that serve to isolate him from healthy, positive socialization. As it stands, this distinction is not made but left to the reader to determine. Nonetheless, this strange character dynamic does not limit the humor in the story. More sophisticated readers will enjoy Tyler’s ironic musings, his clumsy relationship with Rachel, and his disastrous and hysterical attempts at creating stronger extra-curricular experiences for his resume. In short, they will stand firmly in Tyler’s corner. Minor characters in the story provide interesting compliments to Tyler’s struggle, showing that all individuals have battles of their own, from Carl and Janet, whose marriage is struggling in the wake of their son’s death, to Levi, whose uber-religious parents hold him in chains. The only problematic element in the story is Tyler’s flippant reaction to Milagro’s death; his lack of concern is clearly caused in part by his short-lived, yet disastrous use of drugs. And perhaps in reality this is what happens—drug abusers sometimes don’t suffer consequences to their actions or recognize how their actions affect others—but such imperviousness on Tyler’s part does not ring true with the Tyler who is developed throughout his time working at the nursing home, the Tyler who falls in love with Rachel and the Tyler who reaches out to Levi. But for this one odd puzzle piece, I’d have given this novel a full four scribbles. Readers who enjoyed such novels as The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and Looking for Alaska by John Green should definitely check out this novel, by screenwriter and playwright Larry Buhl.