Today, there are 118 elements on the list. In the 1980s, when I was a kid, there were 108, and ten years before that, there were 106.
It’s these 106 elements, starting with Hydrogen and ending with Seaborgium, that 13-year-old Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple is determined to memorize.* He’s the main character of Neil Smith’s Boo, a dark yet amusing novel in which two boys investigate how they ended up dead. They’re stuck for the next fifty years in an afterlife in which everyone in a town called “Town” is their age.
The last thing Boo remembers of his life is standing in front of his locker reciting the elements when he drops dead on September 7, 1979. The next thing he knows, he’s lying in a bed at the Meg Murry Infirmary, one of many locations in Town named after characters from books well-loved by 13-year-olds.
Smith’s novel is a book Boo writes for his parents about his afterlife. It’s his attempt to comfort them from beyond the grave.
In Chapter 1, entitled Hydrogen, Boo asks them:
“Did you realize I was a pariah? If you did not, I am sorry I never made this clear, but I did not want you fretting about something you could in no way control.”
Poor Boo! He gained friends for the first time only after his death. It’s hard to believe his parents hadn’t known on some level that he was an outcast, but at the same time, my own experience as a parent has taught me that we don’t always know as much as we think we do about our children’s lives.
My oldest two, who are now rising 2nd graders, have always been different from each other socially, a trait we’ve tried to encourage by putting them into separate classes. We agonized over this decision, one of the most controversial decisions parents of twins can make.
During their Kindergarten year, though, we started to have second thoughts about our choice when one twin received several birthday party invitations while her sister received very few.
The excluded twin cried whenever her sister received an invitation from a classmate, but she otherwise seemed happy at school, always rambling on about what she learned and what her teacher said.
Then, well into the year, I learned that my daughter also sat by herself in the cafeteria, a place segregated by classroom.
How could I have missed that? I still don’t know the answer.
Thankfully, in 1st grade, my daughter rectified the situation by inventing a food sensitivity for herself so she could sit with her best friend at the “peanut allergic” table. The aides checked my daughter’s lunch box and then let her sit down.** When her identical twin sister (still in a different class) tried the same tactic with a similarly peanut-free lunch, the aides wouldn’t allow her to take one of those highly coveted seats. “You don’t have an allergy,” they said, a rationale she accepted without blowing her twin’s cover.
I’m impressed—and relieved—that my previously lonely twin daughter was able to handle the problem on her own. Still, I wish I had known about her struggle, even if Boo may be right that I’d be “fretting about something [I can] in no way control.”
As a parent, it’s my job to try to help (at least behind the scenes), even if it doesn’t always work.
These were the thoughts I kept having as I became better acquainted with Boo in Neil Smith’s engrossing book. My heart ached not only for the lonely 13-year-old at the center of the story, but also for his parents, who were never given the chance to help him.
I am looking forward to sharing this novel with my twins when they are a little older. I’m sure it will spark an interesting—and important—discussion about loneliness, cruelty, friendship, and death.***
For more perspectives on Boo, check out:
- Melwyk @ The Indextrious Reader: “I haven’t come across such an original story in ages – if you’re looking for something unusual that can spark conversation about deep themes, while also being an entertaining, eventful read, give this one a try.”
- Michelle @ That’s What She Read: “Boo is one of those novels that is so good while in the midst of reading it but whose details sadly fade too quickly.”
- Jaaron @ Worn Pages and Ink: “5 stars. Without a doubt. Read it.”
- Lauren @ Bookish Things: “For a YA novel there is a lot going on here and a lot being said, not only about Boo but about culture, politics, philosophy, mental health, grief and so much more. Definitely DEFINITELY worth reading.”
- Eva @ The Paperback Princess: “Boo was a quirky little book but it didn’t pack the emotional punch I was expecting from a coming-of-age story where the narrator is stuck at age 13.”
UPDATE (January 2016): Speaking of the Periodic table, the four newest elements will get permanent names soon! Via NPR: “For now, they’re known by working names, like ununseptium and ununtrium — two of the four new chemical elements whose discovery has been officially verified. The elements with atomic numbers 113, 115, 117 and 118 will get permanent names soon, according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.”
*Dalrymple isn’t a name I come across often. It’s in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and also in Amelia Elkins Elkins, my newly released retelling of Austen’s classic work (See Here for More about this Legal Fiction/Contemporary Women novel).
**I never put peanut or nut-products in my daughter’s lunch because she dislikes them. I am particularly careful about it because she sits at the “peanut allergic” table.
*** Mr. A.M.B. requested I add this link for some unspecified reason.