The Premise: I love the one already on the back blurb: "Fourteen year old nerd-boy Dan Ceriell is not quite coping with a reversal of family fortune, moving house, new school hell, a mother with a failing wedding cake business, a just-out gay dad, and an impossible crush on the girl next door. His life is a mess, but for now he's narrowed it down to just six impossible things... "
My Thoughts: Poor Dan.Things do not begin well for him in this story. Just a few months ago, Dan lived with both his parents in a spacious house in a well-to-do neighborhood and went to a prestigious private school. They had the appearance of a happy, perfect family, but problems were surfacing. Dan's parents had been fighting more and more, until finally, his father drops "the bombshell - the family business was in the hands of receivers, he had been declared bankrupt, he was gay, and he was moving out."
Now, it's just Dan and his mom in a stinky, freezing house left to them by an eccentric great aunt. All their possessions (owned by the business it turns out) have been taken away, and Dan has to go to public school. In the break before Year Nine of school starts, Dan is pretty miserable. He dreads being the new kid and hopes he can reinvent himself into something a little more normal and a little less nerdy than he actually is. And he falls head over heels for the lovely girl next door, Estelle, before he has actually ever officially met her.
When you look at the set up of this story, it has the bones for something quite dismal, but thankfully, it is not. In fact, I fell in love with Dan's voice, which is of the long suffering teenage boy variety (reminds me of Adrian Mole without actual diary entries). When Dan puts his situation into words, somehow, the humor his take infuses into the story makes things seem less bad and a little more ridiculous. Take his mother's idea to go into the wedding cake business, for instance. Dan notes, "She's going to be making wedding cakes. It wouldn't occur to everyone in the throes of a marriage breakdown, but we do irony in this house in addition to sarcasm." He is further appalled whenever he walks into the house during his mom's consults, and overhears his mother encouraging yet another bride-to-be to consider not getting married at all. When his mother plays Radiohead on repeat and extols the virtues of Thom Yorke, it is DEFCON 1 up in the Ceriell household.
So navigating his new life doesn't start well, and it continues to have its share of disaster, like being zeroed in on by a bully on the first day of school and getting a job to help his mom, only to find out that he won't be paid. Luckily, it has its triumphs as well, and these ultimately win out over Dan's bad situation. Dan goes from trying to keep himself unobtrusive to actually making friends, and there are plenty of unique characters and impossible situations that provide fodder for his observations. Dan himself is revealed in his narrative - his nerdy list making (always 6 items long); his insightful musings; his soft spot for Howard (their dog); and his concern for his mother - all endearing traits.
Then there is of course his crush on Estelle. This begins a little uncomfortably for me, because Dan had yet to meet her and he'd already put her on a high pedestal. His thoughts are sweet but border on obsessive:
"It feels as though I'm thinking about Estelle most of the time. As though someone has changed my default setting to 'Estelle' without my permission, or she's become my brain's screen saver. Desire has merged with a (completely alien) noble feeling of wanting to be able to offer Estelle my absolutely best self. The power of this is undercut by not really knowing what my best self is. But it's got to be more than the current sum of parts.All this churning and I haven't even met her. What's she going to think about me? Uncool me? Trying-to-hide-the-nerd me?"
I think that part of Dan's crush is the lonely place he's in after his dad left, but thankfully as things get better for him, Estelle becomes more human. Dan gets to know her as a person and they form a proper friendship. It's because of this, not his first crush on her that I ended up rooting for Dan to get the girl he likes so much. The relationship was a nice subplot to to Dan getting his bearings after life was upended.
This ends up being a pretty heartwarming story, with some bits where I felt that Dan got lucky with the help he and his mother got from people around them, but I feel like Dan earned his happiness after what he went through. Dan is very funny, but the story isn't just funny. It has sweetness makes it hit that surprising place where you are in between laughter and a bit of tears. Laughter wins out.
Overall: I loved this one. I picked it up and could not stop reading because of Dan's voice. I think I'm just a sucker for a narrator that has both a sense of humor and plenty of vulnerability. That perfect mix is hard to find, and while Six Impossible Things is something that's aimed at the YA and younger audience and has a simple premise, it also has a complexity to it that makes it feel more substantial than it's 240-ish pages, and more universally appealing. Pick it up if you are looking for a feel good read with comedic appeal.
Buy: FishpondWorld (free shipping!)
The Book Harbinger - positive
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