"STUPID AND CONTAGIOUS," by Caprice Crane, 5 Spot, 317, $12.95

"Stupid and Contagious" combines all the highs and lows of finding one's place in the real world, from finding a career — "when you can't make it as a waitress, there's a whole world of self-worth you're just never gonna see again" — to falling in love.

This romantic comedy will have readers hooked from Page One and bursting at the seams until the end.

Heaven Albright (yes, that's her name) feels like she's anywhere but heaven. She not only just lost her dream job (at one of the top public-relations firms in New York City), but she's also convinced she'll die if she's not married at age 27. It makes sense, she reasons. Kurt Cobain was 27 when he died.

Brady Gilbert just broke up with his girlfriend of two years. She's "psycho" and made him move out of the apartment they shared, which was "mine before she got there and was supposed to be mine long after she left." Why give up rent control in New York City? As Brady says, "You haven't met Sarah."

When Brady moves in next door to Heaven, sparks fly from the start. Brady's small-budget music label needs to find a good band — and fast. One that doesn't expect a lot of cash and a big label.

Heaven's hating her job as a waitress and can't wait to get back into PR.

The unlikely duo pair up to recruit young musical talent in Los Angeles and conquer the world, and they end up conquering each other as well.

Crane's brilliance lies mainly in the wittiness of her characters. Heaven, in particular, is an adorable and amusing piece of work. In addition to believing she'll die as a 27-year-old bachelorette, she hates Brady at first sight because he wiped an eyelash off her face and "stole my wish."

She has a psychiatric-diagnoses book and regularly decides she has one mental illness or another. And she has no fear. Hey, it takes guts to walk past the security gate and into Howard Shultz's mansion (he's the founder of Starbucks).

Brady isn't far behind her in sarcasm and likability. His affinity for old-school junk food and soda pop (Jolt is the best thing ever created, and you can't find Funyons in New York City) leads him to buy up just about everything in stock from an L.A. market.

His obsession with new inventions — "Cinnamilk. I'm telling you. Next. Big. Thing." — and being a successful music label without the big bucks make him an appealing modern-day version of someone infected by the American Dream.

Following Heaven's and Brady's twisting, turning paths to each other makes for a dizzying but hilarious way to spend an afternoon.

The only thing that doesn't make sense about this book is the title. The book is silly but never stupid.

On the other hand, once the reader gets caught up in the characters' lives, Crane's novel is definitely contagious.

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