Facing the Fear of the Unknown Alone: The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

Originally published August 2018

David Arnold captured my eternal fandom with his first book, Mosquitoland.

Much like John Hughes authentically captured teen angst on film, Arnold is equally on point with teen portrayals in his writing — and it is no different with “The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik.”

And while Arnold’s previous efforts focused on self-discovery inside the confines of the parent-child relationship, his most recent work turns more toward the fears we all face as we stand at the precipice of a new phase of life, moving from high school to college. There’s still a parent-child conflict within the pages of Noah Hypnotik, for certain, but this really is about Noah trying to make sense of his future.

Noah Oakman is headed into his senior year of high school knowing two things: he can swim fast enough for scholarships, and he doesn’t really want to swim. A convenient back injury is allowing him to put off the inevitable and his two best friends, twins Val and Alan, don’t press the issue. But you can’t fool best friends. So even if Noah thinks he is pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes, well …

One freaky visit to your stereotypical teenage boozefest, and Noah’s life is turned inside out. What once may have been hidden is now in plain sight, and factual markers of his daily life — his gimpy dog Fluff, Alan’s comic book allegiance, even his mom’s appearance — they’re altered in ways that just don’t make sense.

Noah’s quest to make some sense of his new surroundings isn’t just about explaining what’s changed. It’s about embracing what hasn’t, and understanding why some things stay the same. The more I think about it, there’s a bit of a “Field of Dreams” element to it — that in the end, Noah is really working to figure himself, and not the world around him, out. There’s a particular passage about three-quarters of the way through which I think a lot of people can identify, but one line stands out:

“I romanticize my past and I romanticize my future; right now is always the bleakest moment of my life.”

Imagine reading that while on hour 482 of a week-long car trip with three bickering teens/young adults in the back seat and try not to shout “Amen to that!”

Does Noah find his way back to what once was his reality? You’ll have to read to find out. But once again, props to Arnold for capturing teen angst so on point it makes me wonder just how many diaries he’s been sneaking peeks at.

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