Last weekend, David and I traveled to South Carolina to see our two moms on Mother’s Day weekend. We were also happy to see other family members, including my sister and her crew. My fourteen-year-old nephew has Asperger’s Syndrome, and although he is fascinated by meteorology and amazingly gifted in music, reading has never held much interest for him. This visit, though, John was eager to share a book with me, and my sister told me that it was the first full-length book he had ever read all the way through. Go, Dog, Go! he had done, but never a complete novel. Could there possibly be a greater commendation for a book than that? I had to read it immediately.
Colin is a teenaged boy with Asperger’s leading a fairly stereotypical Aspie life: socially isolated, good at math, keeping his food separated on his plate. He is sometimes bullied, but since he doesn’t give the bullies the satisfaction of fear and panic, he doesn’t get hurt badly. In the beginning of freshman year, a bully named Wayne dunks Colin’s head in the toilet, but later in the novel, Colin overreacts to being touched and breaks another bully’s nose. So he is not helpless, just clueless. He carries around a cheat sheet of various facial expressions, labeled with the appropriate emotion being expressed, and he writes down all of his observations in his well-worn notebook, which goes with him everywhere. His friend, Melissa, has— shall we say— matured over the summer, the evidence of which Colin points out to her in graphic terms that would earn most boys a slap. Melissa understands him, though, and leaves poor Colin to figure out why his feelings toward her have taken a very confusing turn.
One ordinary lunchtime, while one of the popular girls is passing out birthday cake in the school cafeteria, a shot rings out, and after all of the screaming and scrambling for cover settles down, Colin sees a gun covered with frosting lying on the floor. Wayne, the school bully, is immediately suspended, but Colin is convinced that Wayne is not the shooter. Emulating his hero, Sherlock Holmes, Colin uses his powers of observation and deduction to try to find the real villain before it is too late for Wayne.
Written in a combination of third-person narrative, journal entries, and footnotes, this novel reveals the inner workings of an Aspie mind with compassion and straight-up realism. There is some strong language, and an understanding of sex, though nothing happens on the page. Colin has great parents, and he loves them, but he sees them with the clarity with which one adult would see another, unrelated adult. His brother, however, is probably the biggest bully in Colin’s life, despite his parents’ efforts, and it is difficult to imagine the pain of living with someone so aggressively hateful every day. Colin deals with all of this rationally, and is sincere in trying to follow all of the rules he has learned and to adjust his communication style in order to interact with the neurotypical humans around him. His desire for justice and truth allow Colin to defend even the individuals who have given him nothing but cruelty, and that purity of purpose leads to a happier outcome than most of us would expect.
Obviously, this is a terrific book for any tween or teen who needs a hero on the spectrum, but many other kids are also facing each day as another encounter with a bully. Colin Fischer will give them courage. On the other hand, aggressive kids could learn compassion in these pages, and everybody loves a good mystery. Recommended.
Disclaimer: I read the first 125 pages of this book in my nephew’s copy, and then read the remainder in a library copy. Opinions expressed are solely my own, perhaps influenced by my John’s enthusiasm, but do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.