I don’t normally read contemporary YA, but I couldn’t resist the siren call of a story about confused and nerdy teenagers who were almost as obsessed with The X-Files as I was when I was a teenager. Going in, I was expecting Lula and Rory’s X-Files obsession to be more of a gimmick and that it wouldn’t be present in more than a cursory way, but I was so wrong. It plays an integral role in both Lula and Rory’s lives, and the book would have been lesser without it.
Lula and Rory are best friends, two self-described outcasts who found each other in the 7th grade and never looked back. Rory is gay and living with an alcoholic mother, and Lula’s parents left her to be raised by her grandparents. They depend on each other emotionally in a very real way. But adolescence tends to shake things up. When Lula learns that Rory has been having an affair with his much older boss and that he didn’t tell her, it sets off a chain reaction of emotions in her head, and she and Rory have a terrible fight. The next morning, Lula has disappeared.
Lula’s disappearance and the fallout from it is the glue that holds the book together, but it’s the little details that make this book such a joy to read. It’s so fitting that Lula and Rory have taken to The X-Files the way they did*, because Mulder and Scully are outcasts as well, but both kids see something in those characters that they aspire to as well. There’s this great moment when Lula is teasing Rory about being attracted to Mulder/David Duchovny, but he sort of dodges her, and later you find out it’s not sexual attraction that Rory finds so compelling about the character, but a sort of idealized father figure–he imagines himself as the long lost son they had to give up. He’s also really old fashioned, and the depth of Mulder and Scully’s friendship and platonic love for one another strike a chord with him, and with Lula.
*Brothers explains what you need to know about the show if you’ve never seen it, but if you have, it’s really fun to spot all the X-Files references she slips in without acknowledging them. And if you, like me, were really active in the fan community in the late 90s, parts of this book will be like slipping in a time machine.
The whole book is Lula and Rory wrestling with how they perceive themselves, how they think others perceive them, and with finding the reality in between. It’s also a book really concerned with familial relationships. Lula has felt abandoned her whole life by her mother, and it takes her a really long time to begin to come to term with the idea that she’s been so obsessed with what she isn’t and what she doesn’t have, that she’s not appreciated the family she does have, including the new addition of her mother’s new husband Walter.
It’s really hard to sum up this book because it’s such an emotional journey for both characters. If coming of age stories about nerds are your thing I highly recommend checking this out, especially since it doesn’t have that many ratings on Goodreads. More people need to support authors who write this kind of smart, soulful fiction.