- ISBN-13: 9780425288863
- ISBN-10: 0425288862
- Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
- Publish Date: May 2018
- Page Count: 432
- Reading Level: Ages 14-UP
- Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
Reality looks very different today
David Arnold is one of my favorite authors to run into at a Nashville literary event. Although he left Tennessee for the bluer grasses of his hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, he’s still a regular face around town, and he’s often the most genuinely excited author in the room.
On the day of our chat, which is sadly via phone instead of at one of our favorite local record stores like I’d hoped, we’re exactly one month away from the publication of his third novel, The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik. When I ask how he’s feeling, I’m pretty surprised by his answer: “You know what’s funny about that?” he says. “I’m less excited and nervous with each book, and I’d say that’s a good thing. You have to move on. I feel very strongly that whenever someone asks what’s your favorite thing that you’ve written, it’s always the newest thing. I feel very strongly that Noah is my strongest novel. Noah is my most personal book in a lot of ways. I have never written an autobiographical character, and I don’t really plan to, but Noah would be the closest thing to that I’ll ever write.”
You might be a big fan of Mosquitoland or Kids of Appetite, but Arnold’s latest, with its sci-fi-tinged explorations of time and reality, is easily his most ambitious to date.
Sixteen-year-old Noah Oakman seems to be living a pretty typical suburban life, even if it feels like his trajectory is a bit out of his hands. He’s a star swimmer being courted by college scouts (although he’s faking a back injury while he dreams of a life outside athletics), his parents are almost annoyingly in love, his doting sister idolizes him, and he’s so set on living a life of predictability that he has a self-imposed wardrobe—jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with David Bowie’s face.
Noah’s starting to feel like he’s outgrowing aspects of his life, so he retreats into the things that bring him comfort: “Gilmore Girls” and YouTube rabbit holes. The only person who can pull Noah out of his reverie is his half-Puerto Rican gay best friend, Alan (whom Arnold admits is lovingly modeled after his own best friend, fellow author Adam Silvera). When Alan and his twin sister, Val, convince Noah to let loose at a high school party one night, Noah has a few too many drinks and lets a mysterious man hypnotize him. When Noah wakes the next morning, he finds himself with more pressing issues than his first hangover. Key details of his life have changed, and everything he’s accepted as fact and reality is turned upside down.
“In 2010, my wife and I went on a cruise, and there was a hypnotist on the ship. When you’re on a cruise, you just go with it,” Arnold says with a laugh. “I remember him asking for volunteers, and thinking, what if someone went under and when they came out, everyone in their life was completely different?”
The seed may have been hypnosis, but Noah’s story began taking shape when Arnold and his wife moved from Nashville to Lexington. “We lived with my parents while we were looking for a house, so I literally wrote a chunk of this book where I did my homework in high school,” Arnold says. “So of course I’m going to write a story about a kid who looked like me when I was that age. Of course I’m going to write a . . . book about change when that’s the predominant thing going on in my life at the moment.”
“In high school, I remember feeling like I was changing and no one else was.”
Much like Noah, Arnold struggled with some existential angst during his teen years, although he had to figure it out without the added wrinkle of hypnosis and altered reality.
“When I was a senior in high school, I remember feeling like I was changing and no one else was,” Arnold says. “The great secret is that everyone felt that way. That’s sort of what this book is about: a kid who feels like he’s changing, but no one else is, and no one else could possibly understand what he’s going through. Over the course of this one night, everything gets flipped. It’s almost a mirror image: Everyone in his life has an actual, physical change, and he’s the only one who hasn’t.”
Although The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik is propelled by a surrealist mystery that asks heady questions about how each of us experiences our own reality, Arnold keeps it all grounded by reminding readers that Noah’s most pressing struggle is simply growing up.
“I did feel very strongly that I wanted to write a character whose struggles were completely internal. When the book opens, [Noah’s] feeling this low-frequency dread, and you’re kind of like, why though?” Arnold says.
With whip-smart dialogue, fun pop-culture asides, endlessly endearing and fully realized characters and a hypnotic mystery, it’s no surprise that Paramount has already secured the film rights for The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik. This fan, for one, would love Arnold to write the screenplay.
“I would not be opposed to taking a crack at writing it . . . but if I had my preference, I would rather someone who knows what they’re doing do it,” Arnold says with a laugh. “Becky Albertalli [author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda] is my critique partner, and I’ve been able to see what she’s gone through. If it’s in the ballpark of Love, Simon, I’ll be thrilled.”