The Science of Boys
The Science of Boys
I thought back to the fart incident with Cole and George.
“I’m writing a book about the science of boys.” The words flew out of my mouth.
Poppy’s eyes widened. “Really? Can I read it?”
Huh? Wait! My heart pounded. What did I just get myself into? I was neck deep in water. “Well . . . I’m not finished yet.” Why can’t I stop talking?
“It’s okay, I could just start reading the first chapter.”
My mind went blank. I filled my lungs with air and held my breath . . . but I was sinking.
Then she said, “If you help me, I can help you with whatever that is.” She waved her hand up and down at my outfit.
My head popped out of the water. “You could?” It was just what I needed to keep myself from drowning. “Deal,” I said and shook her hand.
The only problem: I don’t know anything about boys.
Emma Sakamoto is 12- years-old (not 13 until the end of the calendar year), and she’s about to enter her first year of high school (grade 8). She loves science, is considered a nerd by her peers and is desperate to be accepted. Readers are introduced to Emma’s physical insecurities in the undergarment section of the women's clothing store. After a confidence busting time in the store, Emma makes her way to the Stevenson Wharf to meet her best friend Olive. While waiting for Olive, Emma sees a girl sitting at the end of the wharf, a girl who reminds her of her mother. Emma is compelled to walk over to say hello to this stranger. As she approaches, Emma sees that the book the stranger is holding has a cartoon ink splotch on the cover. Emma recognizes the cover as a book she, too, has read. A series of mishaps involving Emma lands the stranger in the water where she loses her book, a gift from her father, and her phone. Emma tries to help her out of the water, only adding insult to injury.
Later, readers learn the stranger’s name is Poppy Sinclair. She is a new girl in Stevenson, and she and Emma are in the same homeroom at school. Poppy is a social media savvy teenager, popular, with the means and fashion sense to dazzle. Poppy seems to be everything Emma is not. Poppy falls in with the popular crowd who are the “mean girls” who constantly pick on Emma. Emma’s desire to be part of the popular crowd is exacerbated by the absence of her fashionista mother.
Emma wants Poppy’s popularity, but Poppy wants something Emma has, and that is access to Cole. Cole is a teen television actor who is starring in the “Magical Creatures” series that is currently being filmed in Stevenson. Their “needs” leads to the agreement the girls come to in the excerpt above. However, Emma’s being blinded by her yearning for popularity leads to a falling out with Olive.
The plot is nothing new, but Emily Seo’s use of the laws of science to illustrate and explain the world of teenage romance and family strife is new and makes The Science of Boys a clever, unique, engaging and entertaining read.
Cleverly, Seo uses the covers of popular middle grade fiction books – rather than titles – to illustrate to readers the books Poppy reads throughout the course of her work. A colleague and I had a great time determining the titles of these books. This device is an excellent springboard for discussion/readers’ advisory. I know librarians/teachers will find many creative ways to use this device with their patrons and students.
The “Advice” Emma metes out to Poppy might have been better handled if it had been presented in the same format each time, for example, as it is laid out in her second directive to Poppy: Advice two: If a guy takes his time but you want him to move quicker, stay far away from him. Like molecules in the gas phase, boys move faster when you give them space. (p. 62) Compare this to the final piece of advice: I ran back to my room and began writing down my final advice to Poppy. I scribbled some stuff about static electricity and electrostatic interactions, then added, “Hence, there is a scientific basis for the saying, opposites attract.” (p. 191)
The secondary story of the absentee parents (Emma’s mother and Poppy’s father) adds to the complexities of life these young people face.
Emma will take readers through the gamut of teenaged emotions: embarrassment, loneliness, excitement, deceit, acceptance, and the long difficult journey to self-knowledge. The Science of Boys will appeal to tween and teen girls.
Ruth Scales McMahon is a professional librarian working in a high school in Lethbridge, Alberta. She is a member of the Rocky Mountain Book Award Committee.