Bognanni, Peter. The House of Tomorrow. Penguin, 2010. ISBN 978-0399156090 368 pp. $
House of Tomorrow reads like a YA novel. Sixteen-year-old Sebastian has grown up in a Geodesic dome, built by his eccentric and visionary grandmother, a follower of futurist architect Buckminster Fuller. When she collapses during a home tour, Janice and Jared, the mom and son on the tour aid Sebastian in getting her to the hospital and he forges a friendship–his first with a peer–with Jared, a wise-cracking heart transplant recipient who introduces Sebastian to punk music. Punk music leads Sebastian to lying, smoking, sneaking out of the house, using the computer for something other than homework, and forming a band on the sly.
Gran’s stroke leads her to a vision to paint the globe onto the Geodesic dome, and in a flash of brilliance, she invites a local reporter to cover the story, but his spin isn’t quite the one she hoped for, and in an angry moment, she kicks Sebastian out of the dome. With no where else to turn, he ends up at the Whitcomb’s home, convenient for both band practice, his first crush (on Sebastian’s misunderstood sister) and his growth from socially awkward teen to a self confident one who brings a splintered family a little closer together.
Like the structure of a Geodesic dome, the story depends on a triangle of Bucky’s philosophy, punk music, and the Whitcombs to give it structure for Sebastian’s development. The story weaves an arc shape, as it begins and ends with Sebastian scaling or about to scale the dome. At one point, I questioned whether a teenager might use words like pellucid or “cyan” to describe his grandmother’s scarf, but decided it was an indication of the way Sebastian speaks–very formerly, compared to his peers.
The narrative voice is well crafted, consistent and tremendously appealing, like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. In fact, Sebastian’s language is a perfect foil for Jared’s words, designed to alienate even as he is desperate for companionship “Your writing is worse than your talking. It makes me want to pound you” he says in an email reply to Sebastian’s formal message.
In addition to careful construction, the writing itself is an excellent blend of humor and pathos and drama: “I’m hurt and befuddled” says Sebastian, as the boys try to write their first song “Punk songs are not about hurt, okay? That’s country,” says Jared. “Punk is about anger and and not taking any shit and living how you want to, and catching an awesome buzz from some beers, and being a shit-head, but a great shit-head.”
This is Sebastian and Jared’s tale, but supporting characters (Meredith, Gran, Janice) are complex, real and not what they seem on the surface. Although the House of Tomorrow reads like a YA novel, the subplots about Janice’s struggle to keep her family together, and Gran’s backstory, flesh out the story and keep it from being a traditional teen problem novel, while still having strong teen appeal.