In his first three novels, Twin Cities author George Rabasa tackled human-trafficking, police brutality and opera singing. Now he's moved on to teenage eccentricity.
Rabasa's new book, "Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb," is an off-beat love story set against the snow-packed wastes of a Minnesota winter.
Rabasa first stumbled across his character Adam in a short story he wrote a few years ago. He said that, usually when he finishes a piece, he's done with it. But Adam wouldn't go away.
"The voice of Adam as a 14 to 17 year old is pretty much the voice I remember in my own mind using as a way of confronting the world," he said.
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Rabasa hasn't been a teenager for some time and is quick to say "Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb" isn't autobiographical.
It's the story of Adam, a brilliant but eccentric teenager living in St Paul. He meets Pia, a kindred spirit, as they board a van to take them to a residential therapy facility. Pia isn't happy about the situation and puts up so much of a fight the attendant shoves her in and slams the door.
"And Adam locks the doors," said Rabasa.
When they discover the keys in the ignition, they take off to hide at the Rosedale Mall. Rabasa describes it as love at first adventure.
"Just the fact that he was able to impress her and bond with her over this small, not so small, transgressive act makes him very interested in her and basically wanting to be with her for the rest of his life."
"His actions sometimes test our patience, as most adolescent actions test the patience of most adults."
The novel is fast-paced and funny, but with dark undertones. As Adam's obsession with Pia grows, both of them struggle to deal with it, even as Pia struggles to evade accusations that she has torched her family home.
Rabasa said Adam doesn't handle boundaries very well. He read a section where Adam and Pia realize they are cold and decide to shoplift coats.
"My mind was brought to the present moment when the clunky anti-theft tags elicited screaming beeps from the security posts at the exit. Their sound blared inside my head, its rhythm syncopating with the drumming in my chest. This was easily the most exciting thing I had ever done. A sharp metallic taste rose at the back of my throat. What a rush! I owed it all to Pia."
Adam goes on to do much worse things -- all in the name of love.
"His actions sometimes test our patience, as most adolescent actions test the patience of most adults," Rabasa said.
However, he also thinks Adam is blessed with a charm which may allow readers to forgive him.
Part of the charm of the novel is the way it is clearly set in Minnesota. It's possible to follow many of their adventures around St. Paul on a map. But Rabasa said Adam and Pia's story could take place anywhere in the United States.
"But I don't like stories that take place anywhere," he said. "I like stories that are grounded in reality. This is where I have lived for 30 years."
Rabasa's other novels, the Minnesota Book Award-winning "Floating Kingdom," "The Cleansing" and "The Wonder Singer" have all been set elsewhere. Now, with a novel set here, he said he considers himself a real Minnesota writer.
"As southern writers deal with fried chicken and things of that sort, I now deal with the mall, I have bad weather, and mayhem in a snowbound Minnesota North Shore cabin," he smiled.
Rabasa will celebrate the publication of "Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb" Wednesday night at the Loft in Minneapolis. However the novel is already being praised on various book blogs.
He doesn't pretend his story will be helpful or enlightening for anyone looking for ways to deal with difficult adolescent behavior. But he does think it might help us appreciate our differences.
"I think our eccentricities are what makes us individuals, what make us human as defined by the choices we can make. And some of those choices aren't terribly brilliant or terribly compatible with society's expectations. But the person who allows himself or herself free rein is living a richer life by so doing."
When asked if writing about troubled teens may be territory where others fear to tread George Rabasa laughed and said he writes first, and repents later.