Monday, July 11, 2016

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

Sometimes the world is too much with us and we seek nothing more than the solace of home. For Solomon Reed, the world has always been too much with him, in the form of extreme anxiety and panic attacks. When one of these panic attacks ends with him in his underwear in a fountain at school, Solomon turns home into a permanent sanctuary. His computer affords him all the contact with the outside world he needs, and Solomon has no plans to return to “normal life.” It’s just easier at home.

Lisa Praytor has never been about what’s “easier,” and she always has a plan. Her current plan is to get into a competitive college psychology program. But to open those doors, she needs the perfect essay, and that means she needs the perfect essay topic, and the perfect essay topic just happens to be a former schoolmate who has hidden himself away in his home. Opening those doors won’t be easy, but Lisa Praytor is up for the challenge.

Clark Robbins is all about easy—easy on the eyes, an easy charm around everyone, a seemingly easy time being athletic and successful. Being Lisa Praytor’s girlfriend, however, is no easy task. And with Lisa’s current plan leading her to college away from Clark, he’s unsure what the future holds for their relationship. For the present, Clark’s All-American exterior belies a deeply nerdy core, and Lisa needs that nerdy core to help with her Solomon Reed plan.

In less skillful hands than John Corey Whaley’s, Highly Illogical Behavior could have taken this premise, these three characters, and led only to highly logical plot contrivances. But Whaley, as he demonstrated in both Where Things Come Back and Noggin, has a talent for creating compelling characters and nuanced plots. So while Highly Illogical Behavior delivers potential romantic entanglements, they are not the entanglements you expect, and Whaley portrays gender expectations and sexuality with humor and humanity. And while you might expect to be sympathetic toward Solomon, you will find yourself feeling sympathy for Lisa Praytor as well. Clark, who could easily have become a narrative third wheel, ended up being my favorite character not called Grandma.

Kudos to Whaley for the creation of Solomon’s grandma, who is a force of nature. Kudos as well for his layered portrayal of Solomon’s parents, whose love for their son is palpable and a welcome change from the typical dysfunction/indifference of parents in YA. And, finally, kudos to Whaley for showing us mental illness with sensitivity. What Highly Illogical Behavior shows us is that while hell may well be other people, eliminating other people from our lives does not make for heaven. 

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