Thursday, September 24, 2009

How to Say Goodbye in Robot

I almost never read a book twice. But over the past two weeks I have been obsessed with Natalie Standiford's new book, How to Say Goodbye in Robot, due out next week on October 1st. I finished reading it and then immediately started it over again--that's how much the story captivated me. Several days have passed since I finished the book for the second time, and still I'm thinking about it. It's like I just can't let go and move on.

So what's this book about? Two quirky teenagers, Robot Girl and Ghost Boy. A friendship forged through shared love of a late-night Baltimore radio call-in show called Night Lights. And John Waters films. And musty old bookstores. And Icelandic hairdressers. An ancient Pontiac named Gertie. Senior year, seen from the social margins of high school. An anti-prom night spent on the Ocean City boardwalk. The lure of the future and the pull of the past. Art school. Family secrets. Loneliness. Being haunted by the people you love, just out of reach.

I could say more about the plot of this passionate and intense little book, but what I keep thinking about is my love for these characters and the bonds they form. How Bea and Jonah find each other at the start of senior year when she's yet again the new student and he's the resident social outcast. How Bea takes up her stance by Jonah's side on the periphery of things, and how comfortable she finds it there. How tuning in to the same late-night radio call-in show provides the two of them with such a powerful sense of connection to each other and to a strangely intimate community of lonely souls. How a person can let you into their life, only to push you out, and then let you in again. How everyone is in some way a robot, a ghost.

I grew up listening to a local talk radio show every night when I was a teenager. I kept listening to that show for over ten years after I grew up and left home, tuning in to my old 50,000 watt station from 300 miles away. That local call-in show doesn't exist anymore, but reading Natalie's book has made me yearn for it. Tonight once again I'll lie in bed and scroll up and down the AM radio dial, trying to find a show like Bea and Jonah's Night Lights, trying to stay connected to their story.

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