Special Topics in Calamity Physics

This twisty mystery (528 pages) was published in August of 2006 by Penguin. The book takes you to a posh private school. Melissa read Special Topics in Calamity Physics and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.


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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Marisha Pessl

The heroine of this dark-as-pitch, coming-of-age/suspense novel is 16-year-old Blue van Meer. The clever, bookish equivalent of an army brat, Blue has accompanied her much-adored — but still exasperating — father from one academic assignment to another.

For her last year before college, he promises an entire academic year in a single school: St. Gallway in Stockton, North Carolina. She’s soon shocked to find herself part of the cool kids’ clique — the Blue-Bloods — and under the spell of her charismatic teacher Hannah.

When death twice visits St. Gallway, this coming-of-age story transforms into a riveting mystery novel. Blue turns informal investigator to learn the whys of the situation and realizes that people are far more complex than the characters on the pages of the books she loves.

Based on the structure of an academic syllabus and packed with literary name-dropping and slippery footnotes — some that reference faux scholarly works — this novel is a page-turning mashup of book love, character study, and murder mystery.

‘Always live your life with your biography in mind,’ Dad was fond of saying. ‘Naturally, it won’t be published unless you have a Magnificent Reason, but at the very least you will be living grandly.’ — Marisha Pessl

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Private schools can be like a psychology experiment about what happens when you jam x-number of kids into an enclosed environment and crank up the stress. It's agony for the characters, and such good fun for us.
We might sometimes get a bit belligerent and argue that 'the book is always better.' But if we're totally honest, we enjoy a bad adaptation as much as a good one. The coulda/shoulda/woulda talk is so much fun.
Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History' may be the OG pick for fans of dark academia. But we're partial to this one. Marisha Pessl gives us a slippery heroine, indeed, in Blue van Meer, and the syllabus conceit? Genius.

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