Dennis Mahoney's Reviews > The Suburban Strange

The Suburban Strange by Nathan Kotecki
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's review
Aug 10, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2012 — I own a copy

I loved this book and cared about Celia all the way through. It's a coming-of-age story, both normal and paranormal, full of ambience, vivid supernatural invention, and deceptively sharp perceptions about adolescence. The central group of characters, brooding teens who call themselves The Rosary, seem almost unbelievably mature until you get to know them, at which point you see they really ARE like ordinary high-schoolers. They build their identities superficially at first--obsessing over music and books, wearing clothing so dramatic it's essentially costume, and acting much more adult than they actually are. But they're still prone to funny and touching relationship troubles, and they're vulnerable under their veneers. This is a book that captures that time in high school when we started taking control of our lives and maybe overdid it, and when our strengths were new, and strange, and difficult to clarify.

Kotecki avoids a common danger with any protagonist who's coming into her own. Those characters are always great at the start but often become less interesting after they've gotten a handle on their lives, even when their self-actualization leads to bigger trouble. But Celia's external troubles (eerie mysteries, threatened love) never overwhelm her inner struggles. She stays vulnerable and human to the end, so I cared to the end.

There's a major plot twist that haunts the latter part of the book, enough so that it doesn't feel like a Plot Twist but rather like a necessary turn in Celia's life. And there were enough red herrings to keep me wondering what would happen right to the final chapters. Kotecki does a great job evoking that weird late-semester vibe of looming college, when the inseparable group of friends will, in fact, have to deal with separation. And hat's off to the terrific gay and lesbian characters, who were handled in a refreshingly natural way. They're simply gay characters in ordinary relationships like the straight characters, neither token nor overemphasized.

The frequent music references are fun and, because they're vintage, add a unique and colorful vibe. Another reader disliked the vintage aspect, finding it hard to swallow that teens would obsess over music from 10-20 years ago... but what teenager doesn't discover and obsess over older music? Most of us had a Dylan or Beatles or 70s/80s phase because it was new to *us* when we discovered it, and there's nothing weird about serious teens getting into classic goth and books that most adults have learned to take for granted. And that was heart of THE SUBURBAN STRANGE for me--a young woman's discovery of a larger, stranger world she didn't expect but had to deal with, sometimes by faking her way through, until she was strong enough to build a genuine identity.
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