Friday, April 30, 2010

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon

(Sorry for the onslaught of posts; I wound up getting behind on posting this month due to a big project I was working on in order to receive certification in technical writing. I wound up with a 31-page document on book cover design and no posts on the books I'd been reading. This is the last one and then I'm all caught up. Promise!)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time continues my in-depth look at people with special needs. I found myself reading in a pattern that really broadened my knowledge and make me think twice about everything I thought I knew.
(And on top of the books I've been reading/reviewing, I've also found myself in love with a new show on NBC entitled Parenthood, which also deals with an autistic child.)

The novel was written by a man who works with autistic children for a living, which automatically lent its own sense of authenticity to the piece. The novel is told in first person from the eyes of a teenager named Christopher. Christopher has Asperger's Syndrome and by reading his account in first person, I learned more about what a person with AS goes through than I would reading a second-hand account. I think I learned more about the internal workings of Asperger's with this book than I did with Jodi Picoult's House Rules. In fact, like House Rules, this novel revolves around a mystery. Christopher discovers that a neighborhood dog has been killed and decides that he was murdered. He sets about looking for clues, not realizing that by doing so, he appears to be suspicious himself. His dad doesn't want him continuing on with his detective work and bans him from snooping around the neighborhood.

There were moments that the novel read oddly or that I found myself unable to connect with the character, but the nature of the piece almost required that. The disjointed writing and narrow focus was very much Christopher and felt very natural for the character. This was an interesting novel with twists and turns I didn't see coming. Overall, I recommend it, especially since it's a glimpse inside the mind of what a person with Asperger's might be going through.

"House Rules" by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favorite authors ever since a friend introduced me to her back in college. She is also one of the first adult authors I ever read for fun. I love the way she always gives readers an in-depth look at social and moral issues and really makes us think. She doesn't say, "This is my viewpoint and this is the only way it is." Instead, she leaves interpretation up to her readers.

After reading her books over the years, it does get to the point where sometimes you can predict what's coming as opposed to someone picking up the same book and never reading Picoult. In fact, I have a love-hate relationship with several of the book's written after My Sister's Keeper (still my favorite book by any author). Perhaps it's because MSK, while not the first Picoult book I ever read, was one of the earliest ones I read. I started buying the books "brand-new at launch" with the book directly after MSK, Vanishing Acts. All of my favorite Picoult books occur before MSK.

I'm sure this is partially my fault, since Picoult used to have an e-mail newsletter that would give us tidbits regarding upcoming books and she used to post the full first chapter of her novels a year before they hit the bookstores. I'm sure I had such high levels of anticipation that nothing she wrote could have fully met my expectations. I also had a hard time connecting with several characters from newer works and wished I cared about them the way I did earlier characters.

With Picoult's latest novel, House Rules, I found myself deeply caring for the characters in a way that had been missing for a while when I read a Picoult novel. I LOVED Jacob and his quirkiness. Despite having Asperger's, he's still a character with a lot of potential. I loved the way he loved crime and forensics so much that he would show up at crime scenes just to check things out. Sure, it was weird to set up crime scenes in his own house, but it was a great character trait. All of these traits worked well when building the novel's mystery and court drama.

Like other Picoult novels, I sort of guessed where things were going, but I found myself second-guessing that thought and wondering how she could get to where she was going. In the end, I found myself only partially right, which was absolutely lovely and refreshing. I felt so engaged with this novel and it really brought me back to Picoult after wondering whether I was growing disenchanted with her writing and if I could still consider her a favorite.

In brief, the novel is about a teenager named Jacob who has Asperger's Syndrome. He loves investigating crime scenes and always watches a show called Crimebusters. One of the signs of Asperger's is being unable to look someone in the eyes. This reads "guilty," so when Jacob's tutor turns up dead and the investigators turn to Jacob, he finds himself accused of murder. He loves the idea of being involved in a real, live crime scene full of courtroom drama, but doesn't actually *understand* the implications of what is happening to him because his mind can't process what's going on.

Coming on the heels of finishing Out of My Head, this book made me sit back and reflect once more on people with special needs. Both books were handled in a caring manner that really engaged a reader with the characters and gave a bird's-eye view of what it's like to live with a disability.

Whether you love Picoult or hate her, this is one of her strongest novels in recent years and is definitely worth a read.

"Out of My Mind" by Sharon Draper

Out of My Mind was first recommended to me by a co-worker. The story is lovely and breath-takingly fragile. I wept, I laughed, I felt for the main character, Melody (and everyone else with disabilities like hers). Draper really found a way to emotionally involve readers in her story.

The novel centers around a ten-year-old girl named Melody. She's really smart, has a photographic memory...and no one knows. Everyone thinks she is retarded and has no capacity for learning. Melody has a very severe form of cerebral palsy. She can't walk, talk, or properly move her arms. Her parents still have to spoon-feed her. Poor Melody has to suffer through special education classes at school where the teachers treat the kids like infants and they are constantly relearning the alphabet and simple math. It drives Melody crazy because she's such a smart girl.

When Melody is almost eleven, she finds out about a special computer specially designed for people like her. It's programmed to talk at the push of a button. Slowly, Melody is able to demonstrate just how intelligent she is, which makes everyone around her second-guess everything they thought they knew about people with disabilities.

This book will change you. You'll never think about people with disabilities the same way again. Melody is so brave and strong despite the odds stacked against her. I absolutely couldn't put this book down and rooted for Melody all the way through. In fact, this almost feels like the type of book Jodi Picoult would write for children. It has that same delicate aura to it, the same intense look at hot-button issues, the same surprising twists and turns.

The book's title, Out of My Mind, is wonderful; it describes Melody and her situation perfectly. The cover image of the fish jumping out of the bowl suits both the title and a scenario that occurs inside the book and was just the right choice.

If you're looking for something deep and meaningful, check out Draper's amazing book. I hope more students will pick up this title as well; it will really make them think twice before teasing their less capable peers in the future.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Fang (A Maximum Ride Novel)" by James Patterson

Before you say, "Ugh, James Patterson," and turn away, hear me out. I admit to also having qualms when I first picked up my first Maximum Ride book (The Angel Experiment) last year upon a co-worker's recommendation. I had never read anything by Patterson before and didn't really want to because I don't like the way he hedges when it comes to ghost-writing. My feelings for him personally, however, have nothing to do with my love of the MR series (I think I read he actually wrote this one himself, too, btw. Maybe that's why there's one a year?)

The series is absolutely fantastic. When I was reading it last year, I wound up blowing through the first four books in a matter of days and sitting at B&N to read the (at the time) brand-new fifth book, Max, because there was a wait-list at the library. Then, I wound up buying the first four in adult paperback, then upgraded the whole collection to hardback earlier this year so I didn't have to wait to buy Fang.
(Since adult massmarket for the series comes out about half a year after the teen tradepaper edition, I would have to wait even longer because I like my books to match when they sit on my bookshelf!)

Anyway, enough about me. It's hard to talk about Fang if fellow bookworms aren't familiar with the series. So let me start by briefly stating the following brief (very brief!!!) summary:

Maximum Ride is about a flock of bird-children who would have been normal, everyday humans if their DNA hadn't been altered by scientists. The scientists put bird DNA into them when they were still embryos, so when they were born, the children were 98% human and 2% bird. They had bird wings, their bones were made like a bird's (which helped one co-work who would have otherwise not read the series due to the fact that a bird couldn't fly with a human's bone density. She liked that it was so factual), etc. The kids manage to escape from the scientists and hide out for two years on their own before they're found. Now, the scientists want them back. The kids all learn and grow a lot in these books. In fact,the oldest of the flock and our main character, Maximum Ride (fondly called Max), has a special destiny all her own: If she manages to survive, the world will survive. The who, what, when, where, why, and how has yet to happen, so we're all hooked!

Now, let's talk about Fang. (That's a hint for all of you who aren't up to this point to scat!) As book followers will know, Fang is the second-oldest flock member and Max's "boyfriend." That's one part that has always frustrated me. Since the romance between Max and Fang was really poked at in the fourth book (The Final Warning), it's been steadily growing and Fang is the book that everyone has been waiting for. These two finally get some book time where their feelings aren't being dodged, etc. At the same time, their fledgling romance is causing disharmony in the flock. When you add in a prophecy from Angel that Fang is going to be the first of them to die, a strange new bird-boy named Dylan that may be friend or foe (not to mention, he's supposedly Max's REAL soulmate, not Fang...), and a whole lot of drama, you get the recipe for this exciting, edge-of-your-seat adventure.

Once I picked up Fang, I wasn't able to put the book down again until I'd turned the last page. In fact, we were supposed to go out somewhere and I finished in the nick of time. This book made me feel so many different emotions, from happiness to sadness. The book ended in a way that lets readers KNOW there's more coming. This isn't the end, guys. The end is one of my favorites, one of my least-favorites and also one of the "worst" (in terms of cliffhangers) all at the same time. Yes, I'm contradicting myself. You'll see what I mean when you get there.

It's been a while since I read the book (the week it first came out back in March!), so I don't have more specifics on what I was feeling when, but the essence of loving the book and wanting more is still very much with me. If you've been reading MR, you're going to want this book. If you haven't started yet, pick up The Angel Experiment and try the series out. It was the next "big series" I fell in love with after Percy Jackson, and I love recommending it to people.