Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Can I Have a Shaman Panda?

Expected Publication:  July 11th, 2013
The Theory of Everything
By: Kari Luna
ISBN-13:  9780399256264

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.

     Sophie Sophia sees some pretty wonderful things: shaman pandas in marching bands, lunch ladies singing 'Rock 'n Roll High School' complete with dance moves and famous rockers that give advice.  But these things don't exist in quite the same time/place as Sophie, so sometimes they cause her to do stuff that makes other people think she's crazy (like crowd-diving onto the popular girls at her new schools).  These are the kinds of things Sophie's scientist Dad used to do and the reason that she and her Mom left him, moving away from his episodes.  Now her Mom is getting scared that Sophie might have inherited a mental illness from her Dad.  When she is guided by her shaman panda Walt to seek out her Dad in New York, to try and get some answers, things might never be the same again.  With her friend Finny along for the ride and her Dad's book to give her some clues Sophie just might transform her own life, even if she can't save her Dad from himself.
     This whole book is built on a premise of whether or not the episodes are mental illness or Sophie and her Dad are slipping into alternate universes.  It's a really intriguing concept for a YA novel to try to navigate, especially when there isn't any other paranormal/sci-fi aspect involved and it's just straight contemporary fiction!  Sophie is an interesting girl, with unique fashion sense, a love of mix-tapes (anything analog, nothing digital with the Walkman to back it up!), and how-to lists for every event in life you could imagine.  But I feel like I spent the whole book thinking about how cool she was and not really connecting to her until the ending.  It's like when you meet up with some hipsters in a coffee shop and think they're interesting, but have no clue who they really are as a person.  I did like that she was only fourteen and did act her age for the most part with the romance including a cute boy and a first kiss, instead of the prevalent epidemic of 'virginity loss' making an appearance as in many YA contemps.
     I liked the souvenirs as proof that Sophie really wasn't imagining the episodes, but at the same time they were things so generic that it still left you wondering as a reader.  One of my favorite things about this book was Sophie's relationship with her best friend Finny, who is one of the first people she meets in her new town.  He is understanding, has an awesome sense of style, loves the same stuff as Sophie and goes with her on the quest to find her Dad.  Not to mention he helps her fix things with her cute, almost-boyfriend Drew after an episode almost ruins them.  I want a Finny of my own!  But the best thing for me in this book was shaman panda Walt.  He is wise, hilarious, a great musician and truly wants to guide Sophie the best way possible.  Plus hugging a panda after having an existential discussion with them just makes me want to find a portal into this book so I can do it too.  I did feel like it overreached sometimes, and it definitely wasn't a perfect read.  I felt too disconnected at the end to say that I truly loved it.  Plus Sophie's still unresolved situation with her Dad at the end and her disappointing 'choice' in regards to the inter-universe travelling was disappointing.  It was like when you ditch your imaginary friend because you're too old for them! :(  All in all though, I did enjoy it and would recommend it to people really longing for something different, that don't mind baby-hipster main characters.  Oh and props to Luna for the reference to Noah and the Whale! :)
VERDICT:  3.75/5  Stars
*I received this book as part of Around the World ARC Tours, run by the lovely Princess Bookie. No favors or money were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication is July 11th, 2013.*

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