Teenage Luisa (aka Lu) is a talented, brilliant girl with a peculiar inherited faculty of experiencing smells and colors when she is feeling strong emotion. (She has other “gifts” which emerge in the course of the book.) She applies for a special fellowship from wealthy entrepreneur Thomas Bell which she hopes will allow her to become independent from her parents, who are troubling in their separate ways. Bell is a peculiar dude himself and the interview does not go well; she is rejected for the fellowship. The disappointment, however, is subsumed by a sudden outbreak of a flu-type pandemic which kills her best friend, fells her father, and spreads wildly and widely around the world. She meets someone in an aid organization and, together with her, Lu’s brother, and a man Lu is interested in, travels to California hoping to find some answers as to how to stop the outbreak.
They ride the rails, meet up with various characters, get to California, meet up with more characters (one of whom purports to have a cure), blah blah blah. Lu is treated by one group as some mystical prophetess.
Close to the end of the book Lu realizes she does indeed, as others have told her, have the ability to stop the pandemic and puts the unusual cure into play, only to have it aborted by Thomas Bell, the man who started it in the first place in order to, well, I’m not sure what–rid the earth of weak useless people who don’t fulfill their potential, I guess. By this point I had lost interest in following the increasingly cosmic ending.
And why did I lose interest? You might wonder. Why did I not care at all about any of these people, when push came to shove?
Well, I’ll tell you. The book exalts the ideas of humanity, family, love, community, creativity, fulfilling personal potential, all life- and growth-affirming constructs. And yet, and yet. Probably every third word out of each character’s mouth (I might be exaggerating a little but not a lot) is F***. Yes, I am one of those people who still thinks this is a mighty ugly (not to mention sexist) word to throw about. Now, F*** is an ugly word used in an aggressive, insulting way and yet it describes the human act of creating life (which purportedly is also the highest expression of love). Am I the only one seeing some dissonance here?
Also, maybe every fifth curse word out of each character’s mouth is “Jesus.” Can we not give poor Jesus a break? All he did was go about trying to do good and elevate humanity. How in the world has this good man’s name become a curse word? Maybe Lu could use her beloved brother Ben’s name as a curse word. Or her best friend Janine’s. Or her boyfriend Kamal’s. Same difference.
It seems the writer is trying to give with one hand (exalted loving ideals) and take away with the other (cursing such ideals with foul references).
Despite the pages and pages of acknowledgements listing all kinds of people who seem to have helped write this book, it is not a book I would recommend anyone buy.