Harrison Harrison and his mother are headed to Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts from California to study in depth the sea creatures his marine biologist mother obsessively follows. Ever since Harrison lost his leg in the same accident he lost his father, he hasn’t been a fan of the water, and this coastal and quirky town soon tests his limits. When he shows up to Dunnsmouth Secondary School, a temple-like structure with strange students and even stranger teachers, he realizes this is nothing like California–in fact, it seems to be an “irony-free zone” when he tries to joke with other students.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot here, so instead I’ll focus on what is wonderful about the book. The constant subtle allusions and direct references to popular culture and canonical literature make the read enjoyable for many reasons–from hipster jokes to dropping the mic asides to running jokes about hypothermia to references to Gilligan’s Island and Frankenstein and Aquaman comics. Plus, Gregory has a way with words that just make me laugh out loud sometimes. For example, when Harrison and his mother fight, he shares with the reader: “When we [argued] we went at it Samurai Scientist Style. “Opinions” and “beliefs” and “feelings” didn’t cut it–only the katana of logic, the plate armor of supporting data, and the dagger of the extended metaphor (ok, maybe not the last one).”
Beyond references and riffs in writing, though, Gregory acknowledges the foundational stories–from Lovecraft to Coleridge the mythical fates (who work in the cafeteria), to the monomania of Ahab, he knows the canon and uses it to his advantage. Additionally, Gregory always writes strong female parts. His books contain female role models: the single mother, the strong independent aunt, the young high school leader, to the nefarious mother-figure, the woman are as various and dynamic as the men. All of the characters leap off the page into your subconscious. The Scrimshander is a scary monster (who we first met in We Are All Just Completely Fine) for many reasons but I want more books with him in it–and any other monsters Harrison runs into in the time elapsed between the two books.
So go out and buy this book immediately–you won’t be able to put it down and you’re going to want to share it with everyone you know. As usual, I’ll share some of my favorite passages below:
- When Harrison puts on his prosthetic leg, “the sound of the ratchet tightening and locking into place has a military feel to it, like I’m loading my weapon.”
- “Sometimes you have to just act normal to make the world be normal.”
- “Lying to children, I understood, was an adult’s first job.”
Harrison’s aunt to him about his wardrobe: “You’re like Tom Wolfe, possessed by a single fashion idea. But while he chose and ice-cream suit, you’ve settled on…the hoodie.”
- “The best aunts aren’t substitute parents, they’re coconspirators.”
- And one of my favorites, a pun about libraries: “I was just thinking it’s like the books are watching me, wanting me to pick them up, but they’re too polite to ask.”
- “Of course…the best books are always reserved.”