Debut author Baker presents a complicated dialogue between self-improvement and self-acceptance in this novel.
Despite being a daydreamer, teenager Jeremiah feels trapped within himself. Throughout high school, he's tried to become part of the in-crowd and one of what he calls the "Donnigan Boys," to no avail. In his difficult, single-minded quest for self-improvement, Jeremiah finds little solace, except in the school counselor, Tom, who has had a profound impact on Jeremiah's outlook. But it's Tom's use of Myers-Briggs personality typing that brings Jeremiah to the threshold of something more. The story begins as Jeremiah nears the end of his high school career, where he's making progress, beginning to ignore people who've done nothing to earn his admiration. He also becomes closer to Alicia, a fellow outcast and his one true friend. This storytelling choice allows the book to get to the meat of the plot immediately, as Tom introduces a still-unsatisfied Jeremiah to the Auralites; they run a commune of sorts and prize introspection above all else, studying their own "auras" and actively working to change themselves. However, Jeremiah seems to be arriving at a relatively healthy state of mind before he decides to spend the summer with the Auralites, which undermines the emotional stakes of his journey for readers—muddling his hard-won self-acceptance with self-improvement dogma. The epithet Donnigan Boys is presented as a term in common usage, but it remains unexplained for a substantial portion of the novel, which seems needlessly obtuse; it turns out that it's derived from a fictional playin which the Donnigan family represents an exclusive clique. As the tone shifts between character-driven mystery, satire, and polemic, readers may find it hard to pin down exactly when the novel is supposed to take place. As a result, it's difficult to become fully immersed in the story, as it feels a few steps removed from reality. Ultimately, though, Baker offers solid prose and strong characterization, and the overall plot is satisfying, particularly when Jeremiah begins to learn more about Tom's past and the reasons behind his departure from the Auralites.
An often engaging novel of big ideas but lacking detailed context to fully support them.