By Kathy Parks
All Denver wanted was to go to a party, chat with a cute boy and be normal for once in her miserable highschool life. She never expected to find herself cast away at sea with four of the most popular kids in school. She especially never expected that one of those popular kids would be Abigail, her sort-of ex-best-friend who turned the whole school against her in the first place.
Who would have thought it would take a giant tsunami hitting Los Angeles for the social stratas of highschool to finally mix?
Okay, so this book wasn’t bad, per say. The concept is interesting, in a dark comedy sort of way. Parks has a dry, sarcastic humour to her writing that worked for me most of the time. The flashbacks to Denver and Abigail’s friendship and subsequent falling out could have made an interesting enough story on their own. I felt a strange kinship with Denver, as I am also a bitter, sarcastic introvert with an ambivalence towards cats and an odd stubborness that would probably cause me to dive overboard to catch a fish that taunted me. Some of the jokes made me chuckle, even the really morbid ones.
And this book really is at its best when it stays an over-the-top morbid comedy and highschool farce, à la Mean Girls: Castaway Edition. Because as soon as it tries to play itself straight, or to have any kind of actual emotional payoff, it pretty much falls apart.
Because if I’m supposed to believe that there’s anything remotely subdued or realistic about the world this story inhabits, then nothing makes sense. The highschool social order makes no sense outside of a Hollywood movie (or hey, maybe my highschool experience was just wildly unrealistic. Or maybe Californian schools really do work like North Shore High School, what do I know?) There’s suddenly a not like other girls-ness to Denver’s character that doesn’t sit well with me. And while the moral of the book is ostensibly supposed to be “it doesn’t matter what your social status is in highschool because we’re all important people who should be respected”, it reads disturbingly like a nerd revenge fantasy.
A bunch of popular kids die horribly as a direct result of their illegal partying. All of the popular kids, except the one who used to be unpopular, are guenuinely unintelligent and mostly useless (even post-character development). The outcast character, who is smarter than any of them, is the only one with the knowledge and abilities to survive in their harsh new environment and gains the grudging respect of the popular kids. A few popular kids then proceed to die as a result of either macho bravado or plain incompetence. The outcast character almost single-handedly saves everyone else, gets her best friend back, and while she mourns the dead, still thinks mockingly of them afterwards. When removed from the fantastical element of it all, it’s frankly uncomfortable to read.
And that’s the main problem with this book: when it tries to be Mean Girls, it mostly works. When it tries to be serious, you are suddenly hit with the realisation that 3000 people died in a horrible tragedy, essentially so that our protagonist and her ex-best-friend could make up after a fight. It’s like the difference between a sarcastic comment and a sincere one: as soon as “All it took to get us on speaking terms was an act of God” stops being bitter and passive-aggressive, you’ve lost your audience.
If you don’t have a morbid sense of humour, or an ability to ignore all tonal consistency, then this book will definitely not be what you’re looking for.