When his grandmother collapses, 15-year-old Sebastian Prendergast emerges from his isolated existence to discover real life, and punk rock.
"The House of Tomorrow," Peter Bognanni's debut novel, inhabits a pleasant no man's land between Young Adult Fiction and Fiction About (Extremely) Young Adults. There's a long view of adolescence here, but it's also a story about going from childhood to adolescence that should appeal to any freshman lit major with his wits about him.
The narrator, Sebastian Prendergast, is 15, but he's been kept away from anything that the most basic Google search can't provide, home-schooled and isolated in a geodesic dome built by his grandmother, a passionate disciple of Buckminster Fuller.
Raised in this exalted hermitage on a diet of vegetarian smoothies and ecstatic futurism, he hovers somewhere between genius and damage -- one of those characters who spout information and do not employ contractions when engaging in human speech. His geometric bubble is only pierced when his grandmother's stroke in front of some rare visitors to the House of Tomorrow leads to a connection with a typically complex Family of Today.
This family, the Whitcombs, consists of Jared, a hilariously sullen punk-rock wannabe who will be Sebastian's first friend; older sister Meredith, predictably sexy and troubled, who provides his first love, and their mother, Janice, a desperately perky creature who uses the church both as a mechanism of denial and to provide her with the creativity she finds herself missing.
It's Janice who takes the grandmother to the hospital and later allows Sebastian to move in with them, for reasons that become clear, if not entirely likely.
Bognanni's description of the dome in the woods is richly detailed, and he draws a compelling picture of Buckminster Fuller and the passion of hero worship he inspires in Sebastian's Nana.
The centerpiece of the book, though, is the Rash, a putative, Earth-shattering punk band conceived by Jared -- whose default hostility hides the fear and confusion of illness -- on vocals and lead guitar, and Sebastian, his recruited co-conspirator, on bass. The most enjoyable and vivid scenes in this book are the practice sessions that these two manage to sneak in.
Of course they are adorable in their grandiosity: Jared, media-saturated tyke that he is, envisions himself shooting to the top, never stopping, except maybe to make "a really cool zombie movie."
Sebastian's Internet searches lead him to envision Sid Vicious as a heroic, skinny loner who gets the girl, even if he might have killed her. Not to worry, texts Jared, adults are all liars and "Sid was framed." But when Bognanni describes the actual act of practicing, the passages become something else again -- a vivid picture of the changes on a person's face wrought by thought and focus. These scenes should be included in any plea for school arts funding.
Sebastian's first stumble out of the woods into the sweet and vicious real world may not break any new ground, but it's worthwhile, distracting and delightful. Bognanni, who teaches at Macalester College in St. Paul, captures that breath we take before we jump out into our life, the moment when, as he puts it, we "brace for the noise."
Emily Carter is the author of "Glory Goes and Gets Some." The longtime Minneapolis resident now lives in Connecticut.