Reviewed by Mary Stein, Friday Morning Book Club.....take our poll!

(June 30, 2005) This novel is written from the point of view of an autistic fifteen-year-old boy, Christopher, who discovers his neighbor's murdered dog. Christopher tries to find out who killed the dog, and in the process learns about deception, courage and love. The novel is touching but never sentimental. The narrator, Christopher, is incapable of being sentimental. In fact, he does not naturally understand a person's facial expressions, attitude, feelings. His empathy is impaired. In his pocket he keeps a piece of paper with drawings of facial expressions, and when he doesn't understand a person's expression, he takes out the paper.

Christopher is extremely logical. His style is straightforward. It is bone clean: a style that several in our book club described as deceptively simple, difficult to pull off, and extraordinary. Most of the people in our book club loved this novel, not only as a good read, but also as an incredible work, wonderfully crafted. Some were particularly moved by the letters that Christopher's mom wrote to him. Two in our group had reservations about the book. One felt that it was childlike, and another was disappointed because she likes books that are rich in elaborate, descriptive writing.

However, all of us appreciated learning about Christopher's illness, Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. Christopher is an intelligent boy who has specific interests and talents. He enjoys the Sherlock Holmes mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle; he enjoys "maths," outer space, and caring for his pet rat, Toby. Christopher particularly likes prime numbers, and particularly dislikes yellow. Instead of 1,2,3,4... the chapters of this novel are 2,3,7,11..., all prime numbers. He can rattle off prime numbers to the thousands. He can solve six digit multiplication problems in his head. However Christopher has social issues. He does not like to be touched by anyone; he sometimes hits people if they touch him; he screams when he is angry or confused; he groans when too much information is coming into his head; he is angry if furniture is moved.

Many in our group questioned our ability to handle the challenge of being good parents to autistic children. We were not surprised when someone said that the divorce rate among parents of autistic children was high. Our group also discussed the changes in society toward families with special-needs children. Years ago, mothers of autistic children were considered "refrigerator moms" who caused their children's "coldness." Now society realizes that is not the case. Science is looking for chemical causes of autism: genes, MMR vaccines, etc. The world has changed.

Someone wondered if this novel is interesting only because it opens our eyes to autism. This novel is so much more. It is a fascinating novel about an autistic adolescent facing life's challenges. It is a story about an autistic boy who sets goals for himself and achieves those goals, a boy who faces parental deception and other difficulties he doesn't understand and courageously works hard to comprehend the what and whys of life. It is a moving, exceptional novel that keeps the reader wondering what is going to happen. Bravo to Mark Haddon, for providing this wonderful novel.

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