"Everything changes, all the time. Even if you tried not to change, things would change around you and you'd have to. It's like you're a story, not a picture."Alex knows this, and he knows about sharks and how they have to keep swimming of they'll die, and how you can't stop moving ever because the earth is moving you through space at ridiculous speeds, speeds that, when you think about the fact that you're moving that fast, you feel like a superhero. He knows you can't stop. You never get to stop.I loved this book. Before I try to describe it (which is hard) or critique it (also hard), I want to make clear that I loved it, because on paper, it doesn't sound like the kind of book I would love, but it was just fantastic and everyone should read it. Possibly before reading this review in case it discourages you from reading it.
A Hundred Thousand Worlds is a modern day bildungsroman that follows Alex, a nine year old precocious writer and artist, and his mom Valerie on a trip across the country. They are traveling from comic conference to comic conference where Valerie, a former star of a X-Files-like show, is signing posters and entertaining nerds. That's all we get a first, but the real reason they've left New York for California gets unveiled as they go.
There are flashbacks and shifts and a few comic book origin stories, but the book spends a lot of time in Alex's head; we know as much as he knows, and we figure out what's going on as he (fairly quickly) figures it out. This allows for some To Kill A Mockingbird like moments of highly precocious child narratordom that, when done poorly, are insufferable. Proehl, however, nails the inner life of an observant, anxious nine year old, and it works. Alex spends the trip teetering on the edge of what he recognizes as a big change. Proehl captures the simultaneous elation and terror at what looms ahead in a way that feels just as real for my adult transitions as it does for the ones I remember from childhood. There is a passage where Alex wrestles with the idea that he will be spending time away from his mom:
Alex sits with this thought a minute, that not only would he and his own mother not be together, but that they might not even know where the other one was. Any time they spent apart was always defined by place and duration. I'm going to the store, I'll be back in an hour. It seems impossible to think that soon he will not know where she is all the time, and she won't know where he is, either. His position in space has always been in relation to hers and now, without that, he wonders if he'll be like a boat on the whole ocean, where you can't see land in any direction, and sun cycles over you day after day.This not only captured exactly how I felt when I first lived away from my mother as a teenager, but how I felt after every other big rift: breakups, moves, transitions. Proehl is able to write prose that feels genuinely childlike, but still relevant and connected to his adult audience.
For the comic book nerds out there, this book was teeming with inside jokes and references that were way over my head. You can absolutely read without catching them, but I imagine it would have been even more enjoyable had I been able to figure out which storylines he was referencing.
This was an easy, fun, and genuinely enjoyable read. I loved Alex right away, and loved the cast of characters Proehl packed around him. Proehl has Alex writing a story throughout the novel, and each bizarre new character brings something to Alex's life and story that makes it a little richer. Read it!