In case anyone was wondering, it’s really tough being a teenager. Like, completely, y’know, insane and stuff. There’re all these hormones and jerks and teachers who don’t really understand and adults with their rules. Which is why there are thousands of books, movies, and pop songs devoted to cataloging the agonies of adolescence, so many that by now, the routine is more than a little familiar whenever a likeable but socially troubled outcast struggles to deal with emotions he can’t understand, pushes away his parents, and pines for a girl who’s closer than he realizes. Larry Doyle, author of I Love You, Beth Cooper, must know the formula by heart, because he hits the highlights in his new novel, Go, Mutants! Formula doesn’t have to be completely new to work, though, and Doyle manages to put a new spin on an old idea by throwing teensploitation and classic science fiction into a blender and hitting the Homage button.
J!m (not a typo) is the son of an alien who tried to take over the world. Now he goes to Manhattan High School with his best friends Johnny (a half-man, half-radioactive-ape hybrid) and Larry (a blob with heart). A girl named Marie loves him in spite of his open, giant-brained cranium, though he doesn’t realize it. Trouble is, life isn’t giving him much breathing room lately. He’s changing inside, with impossible-to-predict consequences, and in spite of current trends toward extraterrestrial integration, the norms are just itching for a chance to turn on their unconventional neighbors. Plus there’s the school dance to prepare for, and Russ, the sheriff’s son, who’s just itching for a fight.
Doyle packs his story with hundreds of genre references, throwing out names, monsters, and hat-tips to pop-culture icons big and small. Mutants keeps a light tone, and while not every one-liner lands, the ratio is heavily slanted toward the positive. For most of its length, the book’s manic tone manages to engage through sheer invention, but the wealth of in-jokes, stylistic flourishes, and overly complex settings can be overwhelming. Thankfully, Doyle’s affection for his characters, plus the enjoyably predictable story-arc, manage to keep the absurdities grounded. Mutants could’ve used more focus and maybe a few less winks at the audience, but it’s still an ambitious, goo-covered treat.