This is a novel about a teenage boy named Sebastian who is raised in a futuristic geodesic dome by his grandmother whom he calls Nana. She home schools Sebastian under the teachings of the dead, futuristic architect and philosopher Buckminster Fuller. Nana is convinced that Sebastian is destined to save humanity. She also tries to prevent him from uncovering or thinking about the past, particularly in regard to his dead parents. She asks him at the end: “Just tell me how were you supposed to innovate if you were constantly stuck in a past you didn’t even remember?”
But when his Nana has a stroke and is temporarily incapacitated, Sebastian is forced to venture out in the world and befriends a boy his age named Jared, as well as his mother Janice and his sister Meredith.
Jared seems to both fascinate and confuse Sebastian; Jared smokes and cusses, loves punk rock, and is very angry and sarcastic. The way Sebastian tolerates Jared’s sarcasm and rudeness almost seemed masochistic to me. Sebastian soon learns that Jared had recently had a heart transplant. The interaction between the two boys is quite comical. They form an unusual bond and start a band together to perform at a local church talent show. This email Jared sends to Sebastian is a good and humorous illustration of Jared’s character and attitude:
Janice is going out this Saturday night to do something churchy and gay. Now is our chance!!!!!!!!! Come at seven with your instrument.
No excuses or you’re totally out of the band.
Which reminds me, we need a band name. I’ll think of one. Try not to come up with any suggestions. They probably won’t be helpful.
P.S. I hope you’ve been practicing. And I hope you’ve somehow become cooler. That would also help the band.
Sebastian becomes smitten with Jared’s sister, Meredith, who is constantly sarcastic and rude to both Jared and Sebastian. Jared catches Sebastian talking to Meredith and responds:
You don’t have time to chitty-chat with loose women. We have work to do. And you have to save humanity. That’s a lot of shit to get done.
Later Sebastian confronts Meredith about the way she treats her brother. I found her reasoning very thoughtful and touching.
“Why are you so mean to your brother? He’s your family. And he’s…sick. Don’t you understand that?”
“Listen, you chose. Maybe if you knew anything about anything you wouldn’t have to ask such stupid questions.”
“I see the way you treat him.”
“I know you think you’re king of the universe because you have this oddball life and my brother thinks you’re funny, but I’ve lived with him for sixteen years and you’ve known him for weeks.”
“What are you saying?”
“I piss him off because that’s what he likes. I piss him off because that’s how it’s been and if I started being his best friend he’d know it was because of the operation, and he would hate me even more. You get it? I play my part and it makes him think that something is still normal around here.”
“He likes to be angry?”
“Have you ever spent time with him?”
“Okay, maybe sometimes.”
“So don’t tell me, don’t come in here and tell me that I’m making things worse for him because it’s not true. My mom treats him like a five-year-old, and know that’s not right. My dad is never home, and I know that’s not right. So I’m trying something different. I’m treating him like the irritating little shit that he is.”
Throughout all this Sebastian is trying to make sense of a world he never knew existed and soon begins to question the wisdom and philosophy of his eccentric grandmother. He comes to this realization near the end of the book:
The philosophy of Buckminster Fuller and the philosophy of punk rock are not as separate as they may seem to be. Both had a do-it-yourself motto. If something wasn’t out there in the world that needed to be, whether it was a new sound or a new form of housing, you were supposed to do it yourself. It is only those who dared to do something different who made real contributions to life and art. In this very context, it is very possible that Bucky was a punk rocker in spirit. And this was, perhaps, where Nana had gotten it wrong. Instead of allowing me to figure things out for myself, to explore life, she had kept me in a bubble filled only with her ideas. Ideas she had culled straight from Fuller.
I read the entire book in a day. Bognanni does an excellent job portraying how family and friend relationships change. I love how he develops the characters in his book, and his writing style is captivating. The House of Tomorrow is heartfelt, poignant, funny, and gritty. Thank you for the recommendation, Kate. :-)