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[486] The House of Tomorrow – Peter Bognanni

” Each one of us is the center of our own universe. That’s the only way it can be. From our point of view, we are stationary and everything else is swirling around us, dropping into our lives just for our reaction. This isn’t true in a scientific sense, but Fuller said it was how things really feel when we’re alive every day.That’s why it’s easy to forget about things that don’t directly revolve around us. ” (Ch.27, p.276)

The House of Tomorrow is really one of its kind: charming, humorous, touching and sad. Bognanni’s debut is set in Iowa. Teenager Sebastian Prendergast lives in a glass geodesic dome on top of a hill overlooking a town in Iowa. After his parents, both commercial archaeologists, perished in a plane crash, he is raised by his eccentric grandmother, who homeschools him and holds him above the most stringent disciplinary code. A firm believer in transforming all of humanity into a harmonious race (Fuller’s futurist teaching), the old lady is pruning Sebastian to lead a social revolution—in order to save the world.

Improbably, it wasn’t until Nana walked in the door a few minutes later that I realized what was bothering me: I’d forgotten what loneliness felt like. But now it had moved from the far reaches of my mind, where it usually sat, to cramped place just beneath my ribs. I could feel it swelling in my chest. (Ch.5, p.49)

Sebastian is soon under the care of the Whitcombs, who are present at the dome when Nana is stricken. The Whitcombs are far from perfect, but touchingly flawed: Janice has to work extra hours to keep her family afloat after her husband left her. She always keeps an eye on 16-year-old Jared, a sarcastic and overbearing boy who has just received a heart transplant. Meredith, the icy and alienated sister, is always conscious of what others think and craves for approval.

He’s all I think about. It’s not healthy. I know that. I try to turn it off, but it’s impossible. From the time when I wake up in the morning to when I go to bed, I think about everything that’s going on with him. I scan for symptoms. I try to judge his mood, his social progress. Everything. I know it’s unfair to Meredith. (Ch.22, p.229)

As much as Sebastian is being protected and imprisoned by the dome, Jared also withdraws into his world and escapes from his mother’s protective eyes. In the course of Sebastian’s stay with the Whitcombs, he cultivates a deep friendship with Jared, through punk and geometry. Music allows them to discover who they are and find their place in life. They form a punk band and try to steal the show at the local church’s talent night.

The characters in The House of Tomorrow are all gritty and crisp, so emotionally realized as they walk right out of the pages. Sebastian is naive but not stupid, with a working vocabulary of a well-educated adult; Jared is sarcastic but aware of his lack of gratitude for a second chance in life. Nana and Janice both want to protect the boys from hurtful memories that they fear will impede their growth. Their flaws actually render them vulnerable but beautiful. The story is well-written, filled with flawless dialogue. Whether they’re realizing outrageous goals or just surviving another day, the book is a celebration of hope and the importance of love and family.

352 pp. Penguin. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]