February 15, 2013 in Book Reviews
Every year for Christmas, I make sure that there is the gift of books for each of my sons waiting beneath the tree. I do my research, scouring Amazon.com for new releases, best sellers, and recently released sequels to books they’ve already enjoyed. For my two younger sons, it’s an exercise in finding interesting choices in their reading level, but for my oldest, it’s almost like shopping for myself.
There are some great books out there for his age, and I’ve just read two fantastic ones that he let me borrow when he was done.
Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz, is told from the point of view of a 14-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome. He is amazingly bright, especially when it comes to math, but he has some significant deficiencies in the social arena.
He does not like to be touched, so even though he uses physics to turn himself into a hell of a basketball shot, he can’t actually play the game. During one attempt to play, he was fouled. Colin reacted by throwing himself on the offending player and trying to choke him to death: a flight-or-flight reaction to the danger of being touched.
Colin also can’t read facial expressions. He has a series of index cards that he uses as cheat sheets to identify the emotions that flit across people’s faces. He doesn’t understand sarcasm or metaphors either, making casual conversation rather challenging.
One day during a typical high school lunch where Colin sits by himself making sure his foods don’t touch one another, a gun accidentally goes off. The chief suspect? Wayne Connelly, the school bully that just gave Colin a toilet bowl swirly. But the fact that Wayne is the school bully is irrelevant to Colin. He knows Wayne is innocent, so he sets out to prove it, becoming a detective along the lines of Sherlock Holmes.
Colin Fischer reminded me a lot of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. They are both fascinating glimpses into how the mind of a person with Asperger’s syndrome or autism works. Both Colin and Christopher are mathematical geniuses and are stymied by the fact that social graces cannot be mathematically computed. Both are involved in solving a mystery, and both characters’ voices are lovely to listen to. There is a certain amount of logical simplicity in the way they view life. But their incomprehension of even the simplest social context or their sharp distaste of being touched, even for a hug by a loved one, is heart-breaking.
I just re-read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, thinking my son might like it since he liked Colin Fischer. It’s just as good of a read the second time, but I did notice a couple of things. The copious use of the “f” word, for one. The brutal murder of the next door neighbor’s dog with a pitchfork. Infidelity and the violence of a father against his autistic son.
I decided this would be one of those books my son can read when he gets a little older. For now, Colin Fischer is perfect.
Oh my. This little novel by R.J. Palacio is something special.
After years of being home-schooled, after years of surgeries to imperfectly correct the perfect storm of syndromes that have devastated his face, August Pullman is about to enter the 5th grade of a private school. Told initially from his point of view, August experiences every cruelty you can imagine from his classmates, both to his face and behind his back. But something amazing happens: Auggie likes school, and he begins to make friends. Good friends who will stand behind him even when every 5th grader turns their back on them just for befriending Auggie.
But just when you start to feel a bit of triumph on Auggie’s behalf, the perspective shifts to his older sister, Via. And here, we learn about the ramifications of having a sibling with an altered face: August is the sun, and the entire family revolves around him. The lack of attention on Via, the odd looks she gets from others as they realize she’s the one with that brother, the simultaneous love and embarrassment she feels about Auggie…the painfully real feelings of a teenage girl in high school are achingly portrayed.
The perspective shifts again to Auggie’s friends and the battles they go through simply for the right to be his friend within the societal hierarchy of the 5th grade. These are the ones that get to know the real Auggie, who have the courage to ask questions like (I’m paraphrasing here) “Dude…can’t you get plastic surgery?” to which Auggie replies “This is with plastic surgery.”
I could not put this book down. The honesty, the kindness, the fear, the heartbreak, the hope, the devastation, and the triumph told in turn by the various characters from their perspectives on this unique individual was a complete joy to read.
Everyone: stop what you’re doing and read this book. It won’t take you long, I promise, for you will not be able to put it down until you’ve finished it.
It is that good.