Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review: "The Night of the Comet" by George Bishop

It's 1973 in the small town of Terrebonne, Louisiana. Alan Broussard, Jr. (aka "Junior") has just turned 14, and his mind is on many of the same things other 14-year-olds think about—trying to fit in at school, trying not to let his parents embarrass him, and, more importantly, girls—especially his new neighbor, the beautiful Gabriella Martello.

When Junior's father, an awkward high school science teacher and frustrated scientist, buys Junior a top-of-the-line telescope for his birthday, he does so in the hopes that he and Junior can watch the impending progress of Comet Kohoutek, which he promises will be the astronomical event of the century. Of course, Junior would rather use his telescope to watch Gabriella and her family, who live across the bayou in a much nicer housing development than the Broussards.

Much to the surprise of Junior, their father's enthusiasm about Comet Kohoutek's impending arrival starts to rub off on the people in Terrebonne, and excitement begins to build, even among those who have never had any interest in science. But the anticipation around the comet also highlights the problems in Junior's world—his mother's desire for a better and more exciting life than she has, one where money and love aren't as hard to come by; his father's frustration with the course his life has taken; even his sister's need to leave their small town. And all Junior wants is for Gabriella to feel the same way about him that he does about her.

"All of my father's talk about the 'objective observation' and 'trusting the evidence of your senses' was of little use when it came to trying to understand other people. People, I was beginning to believe, didn't so easily conform to the rules of science. With people, it was all just guesswork."

As tensions in the Broussard family grow at the same time excitement about the comet ramps up in town, Junior tries to make sense of his parents' relationship and the truth about love. But the problems of life, like scientific phenomena, can't always easily be pinned down, no matter how hard we hope they will.

The Night of the Comet is a well-researched book that tells an interesting if familiar story of the travails of growing up and not understanding your parents' relationship, but needing its stability. It's a story of the drama of first love, particularly unrequited, and how children and adults alike pin their hopes on things that don't always come true the way they want. It's also the story of relationships—between husband and wife, parent and child, those who seem to have it all and those who want it all.

I liked many elements of this book but found it got a little bogged down with the "coming of age" drama in Junior's life. The story about the excitement generated by the comet, and the way it brings to light problems in the Broussard family, resonated more for me. But it's still a good story that doesn't quite end the way you think it will.

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