Sophie Sophia is obsessed with music from the late eighties. She also has an eccentric physicist father who sometimes vanishes for days and sees things other people don’t see. But when he disappears for good and Sophie’s mom moves them from Brooklyn, New York, to Havencrest, Illinois, for a fresh start, things take a turn for the weird. Sophie starts seeing things, like marching band pandas, just like her dad.
Guided by Walt, her shaman panda, and her new (human) friend named Finny, Sophie is determined to find her father and figure out her visions, once and for all. So she travels back to where it began—New York City and NYU’s physics department. As she discovers more about her dad’s research on M-theory and her father himself, Sophie opens her eyes to the world’s infinite possibilities—and her heart to love.
Perfect for fans of Going Bovine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Probability of Miracles.
First of all, you’ll have to forgive this review for being a little late. I had notes all written up for my review but they were on my Kindle and that was stolen on my holiday. So this will be a bit different from my usual reviews – but I hope this format better conveys how I feel about this book!
Things I Liked:
The Fantastical, Beautiful Worldview of the MC: Ok, it may sound twee or just a little too magically realistic to have a character who legitimately believes that she sees pandas and moshes in a cafeteria. But honestly? It works because Sophie’s visions are so delightful and interesting and you love her for having visions that involve cool things, like bands and dancing animals. And the other reason why it works is thing number two that I liked.
The Book Dealt With Mental Illness in a Unique and Understandable Way: The very idea that Sophie “sees” things, and whether they are a symptom of her own mental illness or actually her being completely sane with magical powers is a huge question through the book. That issue of “real or not real” is one I think that teens with serious mental illnesses deal with all the time. As a teen with some depression issues, I remember feeling frustrated because no one believed that it wasn’t just me being moody or stuck in some “teen phase.” In this book, it becomes even more important to establish that real or not real line when things take a turn for the worse and Sophie’s episodes start hurting her physically.
Whether or not you believe in the magic of the book, I thought the mental illness part of it was dealt with sensitively and with a variety of very realistic reactions. I think this was the biggest strength of the novel: that it didn’t make things just go away, and that Sophie’s journey is very much tied to her own recognition of her problems.
The Playlists, How-To Lists, and “Source Material”: Sophie is obsessed with 80s music and cassette tapes, so we get a lot of her playlists. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff. She also makes lists of things like, “How to Get Along At A New School” that help frame the book. And there’s another big “source material” piece that I loved but don’t want to give away. Suffice to say, it’s GOOD.
Actual, Hard-Core Physics! So many of the YA science-y books I read just skirt over the science. Not this one. Kari Luna has obviously researched string theory, or M-theory, and she’s made it simple enough to understand, and she’s really integrated it into the book and Sophie’s journey.
The Characters Were Younger Than I Expected: The optimism of the fourteen year-old characters was refreshing for me. Their actions felt a bit older (two fourteen year olds hopping a train to NYC, really?), but the way they reacted and thought about things was so sweet and hopeful – Sophie and Finny haven’t been jaded by bad break-ups or alcohol or drugs or peer pressure yet, and that’s awesome.
The Way That The Book Ended: This is both a good and a bad thing. I don’t want to give things away, but there aren’t any easy resolutions here…and that’s the way that it should be. We got closure, but it wasn’t like we got every answer handed to us. This was both annoying and satisfying for me – I like happily ever after endings sometimes…even though I get why this wasn’t really one.
Things I Didn’t Like:
The Unbelievability of the TOO Quirky Characters Being So Uncool: Ok, seriously, as much as I loved Sophie and her bff Finny, I was a little bit…I don’t know, taken aback by the fact that she was so COOL and so disliked. Look, I get that in a small town in Texas, her quirky clothes and weird penchant for 80s music and cassette tapes is a little much for the status quo, but we live in 2013 now. Geek culture is alive and well. And wouldn’t Sophie, being from the big city, be kind of cool to hick town kids? Just sayin.
|Berlin Hipster Festival. Srsly.|
The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Love Interest: Okay. Sophie’s mom? Awesome. Sophie’s bff, Finny? Also awesome. Sophie’s love interest? Totally unrealistic, slightly pretentious, and completely conveniently available for her. He’s a Kerouac-loving, coffee-drinking emo kid. At fourteen. I was frustrated by their romance, and his lack of character development. He’s basically exactly what I would have wanted at fourteen, but only in hindsight.
The Final Word
The Theory of Everything is, at it’s heart, a book about a girl who is trying to figure herself out and cope with her father’s abandonment of her. Sophie is a fully realized character and it’s a great journey to go on with her. Even though I had some concerns with a bit of the characterization, Luna handled the issues of loss and mental illness so well and so differently from your usual “issues book”, that I think I can give it a pass. It never talks down and the science parts are awesome.
Recommended for: Middle-grade/early YA readers, teachers looking for something a bit different in their 7th to 9th grade classrooms, YA readers who want a little optimism without getting too fluffy