Celia is a high school sophomore who’s grieving the death of her father and starting at a new school. She is swept up into a clique called the Rosary, a group of friends who pride themselves on their “darkness” and their sophistication. Celia feels awkward with them at first but gradually begins to gain confidence from these friendships. Meanwhile, something eerie is going on at Suburban High. Girls are suffering injuries or sudden illnesses on the day before their sixteenth birthdays. Will Celia find out what’s going on before her own birthday rolls around?
The main problem with The Suburban Strange is that the plot doesn’t pick up until well after the 200-page mark. Before that, it’s heavily focused on scenes of Celia and her friends hanging out and talking about music and books. It reminds me of when I was in college and thought all my circle’s late-night conversations were so deep and would make a great novel. Now, in hindsight, I can see that those moments were more fun to live than they would have been to read. Such is the case here; there is too much of this stuff and it bogs down the story.
The birthday-curse plot is going on in the background, but Celia seems detached from it most of the time. Celia’s non-Rosary friend Mariette is much more entangled in this storyline, and it feels at times like she’s the real protagonist of this novel, though acting behind the scenes. It’s rather like how the Neville Longbottom plotline in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seemed cooler than Harry’s plotline and I wished we could have spent some time in that other point of view.
What happens on the eve of Celia’s birthday is anticlimactic, but shortly thereafter, the story really does pick up and go somewhere. It’s too little too late, though, and flawed with issues such as a cheesy villain monologue.
I ordered this from Amazon Vine at the same time as I ordered Francesca Lia Block’s The Elementals. My mind wants to compare them — they both feature lonely young girls, ornate prose, lots of music references, and a strange clique of friends. Yet The Elementals grabbed me emotionally from start to finish, and The Suburban Strange feels emotionally distant for much of its length. Add in the extremely slow start and the sense that we were following the wrong character, and The Suburban Strange was not a great read for me. I can’t recommend it.