Ron King,
The Quantum July
(Delacorte, 2007)

This story is somewhat hard to describe, but I will give it my best shot. There is a family of five living on an old farm. The father was a bright and promising scientist who lost his way somewhere along the road through life and now runs the produce section at a local grocery. Claire, the mother, is a brilliant particle physicist whose career has been on hold while she raises the three children, but opportunities are about to become available for her. The oldest child, Simon, is an OK student and an excellent high school baseball player.

The central characters are 13-year-old Danny, who is very bright but gets lost in his elaborate daydreams of living another life in another place, and 12-year-old Bridget, who is an absolute genius who might be moving beyond her mother in understanding subatomic physics. Danny and Bridget are also best friends.

The story tells of one July when very strange things happen. Both parents get tremendous opportunities offered to them, quite unexpectedly, and their differing responses move the family toward a two-way split and irreparable damage. But as Bridget teaches Danny about quantum mechanics, reality itself starts to split apart into different possible futures. For some reason, Danny appears to be the catalyst or crux, and it seems like he has to make some kind of decision in order to hold reality together. Or is the children's exploration of the ideas of quantum mechanics just giving them a way to explain the imminent dissolution of their family and creating a false sense of hope that they can control what is happening around them?

This book was partially inspired by Fritjof Capra's abstract metaphysical treatise on how the hardest of the "hard" sciences, physics, begins to resemble Asian religions and belief systems, especially Taoism, when scientists begin to peer inside the atom and into the subatomic world of quantum mechanics. The Tao of Physics was an optional reading for one of my graduate-level psychology classes, and the instructor included it as an option so we could see how values and beliefs influence our perception of reality. In The Quantum July, those abstract ideas are put into play in the day-to-day life of a family that teeters on the brink of relational disintegration because of the choices that are, and are not, made by the characters. Whether reality will disintegrate or fracture right along with the family adds an interesting twist to what is already a very good story.

When I started reading this book, I thought it was OK. It quickly moved beyond "OK" status because the story is told well, and because the characters of Danny and Bridget are finely developed. It did not take long for me to get a bit frustrated with the indecisiveness shown by both Danny and his father, but that frustration was an integral part of what was occurring in this family.

By the end, no matter how strange the story was getting, it made sense, and it was very hard to put down when things like meals or sleep intruded upon the story. The book had gone from "OK" to "Wow!" and I wanted more when I reached the last page. This is Ron King's debut novel, and I hope there are many more to come if he can maintain this level of storytelling.

The book is categorized as for readers ages 9 through 12. The reading level is right, at about fifth or sixth grade, but some of the science concepts will be daunting to some readers that age. However, the fact that the genius Bridget clearly explains many of these concepts to Danny will serve as a vehicle to keep young readers from getting lost, as well as act as a way to learn some of the basics of quantum mechanics. As you can tell, I also think adults can find this book to be an easy but very enjoyable reading experience.

review by
Chris McCallister

31 May 2008

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