Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

This review was written by: B
Received: Viking (imprint of Penguin Random House)
Publication Date of Book: 6/28/16
Pages: 368
Stars: 4.5/5 

Official Summary:

"A Kavalier & Clay for the Comic-Con Age, this is a bighearted, inventive, exuberant debut." - Eleanor Henderson, author of Ten Thousand Saints

Valerie Torrey took her son Alex and fled Los Angeles six years ago -- leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart.  Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way.

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twenty something illustrator to a lesbian comics writer to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary.  For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.

A literary-meets-genre pleasure from an exciting new writer, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is a tribute to the fierce and complicated love between a mother and son -- and to the way the stories we create come to shape us.

My Thoughts:
A Hundred Thousand Worlds was not a book that I was prepared for.  All that I knew when I first heard of it and saw its gorgeous cover was that I needed to get my desperate hands on it ASAP!  I'm a huge fan of the comic book medium and all that its creation entails.  Plus, going to a con has been on my bucket list for ages.  So, reading a book that included comic book writers and artists, cosplayers, convention goers, cons themselves, panels, fandoms, and all the nerdy feels, centered around a story of familial love and sacrifice, was paradise for my little beating heart!

Looking back on it, I'm extremely surprised that I haven't really come across a novel revolving around people going to and from conventions before.  As a result, I didn't initially have too many expectations or standards heading into this book.  With no idea what to hope for except a story that would keep my mind interested and my imagination engaged, all that I could ask for was what every other reader would ask for.  You can imagine my surprise, then, when Proehl threw me for a loop with his enthralling, sincere debut that captivated my every waking moment with its exclusive quirkiness, deep rooted themes, and more than beautiful story telling.  A Hundred Thousand Worlds literally took my breath away.  It was such a gracefully sculpted story that I was left speechless by the end (and slightly close to tears).  It's true that A Hundred Thousand Worlds is full of crazy ideas and even crazier characters, but at the core of it all, there is a touching story about the bonds that hold us all together, some by a thread and others by glue.  Yes, there are brave superheroes, popular actors, eccentric writers, and awkward artists, but at the same time, this is a story where at the core of it all is heart, and there is so much more to this book than can possibly be explained with words.  It needs to be experienced firsthand or you'll be missing out on something huge.  If you're into comics, consider yourself a "geek", and/or are an extreme fangirl or fanboy, you need to pick this book up and take in all of its epic glory!  And, even if you don't fit any of these descriptions whatsoever, this book should be read regardless, because it holds something special and rich inside of it that's equally incommunicable and untouchable except by Proehl.

For some, this may seem like an intimidating book.  I know that when I first saw A Hundred Thousand Worlds in person it appeared daunting (but that could just be because I read a lot of YA . . . and I mean A LOT of YA).  It may also take awhile to get into the story.  I was about on page 70 before I became totally engrossed.  On top of that, there are quite a few story lines continually being introduced throughout the book, so keeping names straight took a little bit of getting used to.  However, I loved how so many characters crossed paths with one another in unexpected ways, overflowing into the later chapters, the entirety of their hopes and dreams and despairs spilling into different people's lives.  To be honest, I first pictured A Hundred Thousand Worlds as a wacky comedy, but what I got was a debut with weight and honesty.  Sure, I was more than a little surprised that my initial prediction was wrong, but I got something better, thought-provoking even.  I was left with a permanent impression that I will never forget.  Proehl made a huge impact on me, and I'm ecstatic to see what he comes up with next.  He's one of those authors whose every word I will gladly hang on to when it comes to his future works.

The bond between a mother and son is inexpressible; of course, any bond between a parent and child is.  However, Proehl managed to pull off an undefinable phenomenon as if it was nothing harder than a flick of the wrist, creating an impressive, stunning intensity that is inconceivable or unreachable in most other novels.  I fell deeply in love with Proehl's story.  The heartbreak and the strife, the triumphs and the failures, A Hundred Thousand Worlds battled it all.  It's hard to sometimes picture, but we live in a world within worlds, which Proehl understood and covered in depth.  Each and every single one of us has countless facets to ourselves that fit into different places and in different phases of our lives.  Alex struggled with trying to figure out his own life and story, so he decided to create a fictional one in an attempt to unravel his own.  Alex's innocence allowed the author to relay a message to his readers in the simplest yet most profound way possible.  Sometimes the connection between reality and fantasy is closer than we think, and we just have to look hard enough to see the connections.  It may even be that the stories we hear along the way or create on our own are bigger than ourselves.

There are many other aspects to this novel that I loved, as well.  For example, there were all of the side characters that were able to enrich the story and allow the author to dig deeper into the comic book world.  The diversity of this aspect made me a happy camper, especially because one of these characters was a lesbian.  I also had no idea how cut-throat the comic industry could actually be.  Proehl obviously knows a great deal about this area and used this to his advantage while crafting his debut.  He made an excellent point that there are not a great deal of females in the world of comic book making.  Of  course, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to look back at all of my old reads after finishing A Hundred Thousand Worlds, only to discover how true this actually was!  So many comic writers and artists are males.  Proehl also brought up the point of how heroines are continuously oversexed with their costumes so that their serializations will attract more readers, which is absolutely true.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of today, but hopefully the future will prove helpful in changing this fact!  Another point that I want to make is that dispersed throughout the novel were little origin stories based on random heroes who we never hear about again.  I know that for some, they may disrupt the flow of the story, but I gravitated towards them.  They were fantastical and addicting.  I can only imagine how amazing the origin stories would be if they were further fleshed out!

A Hundred Thousand Worlds is an unexpected gem, which I can never truly define, no matter how many words I try to use.  Stories are a huge part of our lives, and how we allow them to shape us and how we allow ourselves to shape them is all up to us!

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