Sparks, by SJ Adams
(Flux, Nov 2011)
This is a YA coming out/coming of age novel that is both very fun and manages to veer off into reality before hitting a cliché a goodly number of times. Debbie has had a crush on her best friend Lisa since forever, and has been watching Full House episodes and going to church group with Lisa since forever also, in an attempt to make Lisa love her back. Lisa has just started dating Norman, who has no personality and always wears a tie. And who may just be the type of church group hypocrite who sleeps with girls then breaks up and talks about what a slut they are. They announce they are going to a movie that night, and Debbie has had enough. She makes a vow she is going to tell Lisa she loves her by the end of the day, before Lisa makes out with Norman. The book consists entirely of that adventure in the afternoon and evening, during which Debbie makes new friends, finds a religion, kisses a girl, breaks into a building, lights a cigarette (she can't quite stand to smoke it, but she wants to set something on fire), solves a friend's problem, goes to a bowling alley, and explores a haunted house, all while she and her 2 new friends Emma and Tim (founders of Bluedaism, or the Church of Blue) drive frantically all over 4-5 towns in rural Iowa to locate Lisa and Norman.
I don't want to put in a lot of spoilers, but every single time I thought we were going to hit another YA/romance cliché, the plot stuck to something actually plausible happening, which Debbie, Emma, and Tim were able to play off of to get further in their Holy Quest to get Debbie to Lisa. Not even Lisa's reaction at the end fits the 'Christian friend now hates her, but protagonist goes proudly off' cliché, nor does Lisa magically become attracted to girls.
Most of the action and humor is filled in by the Church of Blue, which Emma and Tim created, including the ten commandments of Blue, which number eight. Blueists believe that everyone has a spark of Blue inside them, which is a spark of whatever is deity and soul and music and art. Blueists also believe in the absurd and believe in 'be thou not an asshole.'
Sparks was a lot of fun and made me laugh and cry, and even reminded me of early Daniel Pinkwater at times, although the book as a whole is not at his level of absurdity. It is a surprisingly sweet book, despite being (sort of) about teen sex, coming out, and having a few eating disorder mentions. Although Debbie's sadness when she knows Lisa's fundamentalist mother, who's been like a second mom to her, really *will* think she's going to hell is possibly glossed over a little too much - it's still going to be there the morning after the book ends, even if her other problems are solved. But a few pages into the book I had been worrying I had made a bad purchase, and by the end of the book it was way better than I thought it would be at the beginning. I usually read only scifi/fantasy for fiction, so any non-sf/f work that I make it through I consider pretty good.