In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two small girls and a baby boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, September 17, 2010

YA mystery and autism

Dear Aunt Debbie,

So many of my students are obsessed with manga -- I really need to read a few sometime soon.  Perhaps I'll ask them for recommendations.

Your mention of autism brings to mind at once Mark Haddon's YA novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  It's a mystery/coming-of-age/parental difficulties story, narrated by an autistic teenager named Christopher.  The narration is compelling, and is, I think, the reason this book got so much good press when it came out a few years ago.  Christopher's voice is extremely rational, and he notices everything about his surroundings without being able to understand the emotional resonances around him.  He's extremely smart, and the book is filled with mathematical digressions and simple diagrams, but he can't tell what other people are feeling, and has difficulty feeling emotion himself.  Even when describing himself at moments when he shuts down, Christopher is rational:

The policeman said, "I am going to ask you once again...."
I rolled back onto the lawn and pressed my forehead to the ground again and made the noise that Father calls groaning.  I make this noise when there is too much information coming into my head from the outside world.  It is like when you are upset and you hold the radio against your ear and you tune it halfway between stations so that all you get is white noise and then you turn the volume right up so that this is all you can hear and then you know you are safe because you cannot hear anything else.

The narration encourages the reader to make connections Christopher does not, which is satisfying, and also feels like a realistic depiction of what it might be like to be autistic.  I didn't feel passionately in love with it when I first read it, but it's certainly an interesting book.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this a lot when I read it, although like you I didn't immediately fall in love with it. The boy's voice is really what made the story for me.

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