"Some odd people are not meant to fit into the world but to make the world fit us. We are sane only when we embrace our weirdness. We free ourselves to be artists and teachers and preachers. When we refuse to be straightened out, the world bends by small degrees in our direction."
At fourteen, Adam Webb is again sent back to Institute Loiseaux, a school-of-sorts for young mental patients, "clients" rather as the institute insists on using. Adam had already been there twice and is not surprised when he is sent there a third time - the hints have not been missed by his keenly observing mind. This time though, when Happy Harley, the van driver comes to get him, Adam convinces him to let him ride shotgun as they make their way to pick another client - a girl named Francine, who only answers to the name Miss Entropia. The girl however doesn't come easily and once Harley gets her tied at the back of the van, Adam locks all the doors from the inside so that Harley is locked out. This begins a strange kinship and a fiery love relationship between the two that starts with a one-night adventure as they camp out at a mall parking lot, manage to indulge in shoplifting, make possible Adam's first sexual experience, thus resulting in an intense bonding between them.
This story is narrated from Adam's perspective, whose mind makes for a really interesting residence for the reader. Adam is clever, intuitive and sarcastically funny. He successfully second-guesses the drift of other people's thoughts, which makes for very hilarious observations of what's normal and what's not. When Adam's not being as sane as you and me, he is obsessing over the goddess Kali or that most singular and momentous night of his life with Pia. And his obsessions slowly take him to pondering the might and power of the goddess, seeing her in his pancakes, imagining her talking to him and trying to impose his control on people and things. (I noticed the many arms in the cover only when I was writing this review. I can't insist how very apt the cover is - the goddess Kali does have many arms, and it seemed to me how Adam would have approved of it.)
I have to admit - it was very easy to forget Adam's "illness". His is a very easy person to get used to be being with. I loved how this indicated that insanity is a very gray area. The mind can rarely be classified by a black and white scale of normalcy. Besides, Adam was just another teenager pining for love. Most of the time. Pia, the object of his affections, is also highly clever, good at guessing other people's intentions, with her chief weakness being a fascination with fire. Not the harmless kind but the incendiary kind meant to damage and destroy. When her family house is burned out, she is the main suspect, except she keeps insisting that she was at school.
Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb starts out funny and at some point in between, transforms its tone, giving way to an increasingly dark and disturbing narrative. Adam and Pia do not see each other for three years following the mall parking lot camping, but when Adam does find her again, it results in an addiction in him - for Pia. This time, he wants her to stay with him. As his little secret. I found it interesting how George Rabasa demonstrates the unraveling of Adam Webb's mind. It's really not that obvious - Adam's still funny but it's clear that Pia's presence and actions are unnerving him. Our clever Adam however manages to keep her under his control - not letting her out of his sight, and yet the reader is fooled initially. The control is not what I saw first but one misfit helping the other misfit fit in to a world that really doesn't fit them.
For all the darkness in this novel, it was a very addicting read. Much as Adam disturbed me later, he was a charming person. Pia was just as endearing, even with her attraction to fire and her penchant for adventures with fire and pills. The supporting cast in this book - Adam's father, mother, brother Ted, cousin Iris, make for a motley group who all have their own eccentricities that feel stranger beside Adam's "issues". This book showed well how a normal person can still be strange and how a mentally ill person can be sane.
This was a really wonderful book. Even though Adam's family do not make such a huge impact to the storyline, I wish the book had more to add to their story. Even in spite of the disturbing elements, this is at the core a story of teenage angst and love, featuring a pair of misfits. Add in some mental illnesses, and you have a very interesting drama to read about.