Full disclosure: I perceived this novel only halfway as a reader. The other half was as the parent of a child on the spectrum, a parent dreading the fFull disclosure: I perceived this novel only halfway as a reader. The other half was as the parent of a child on the spectrum, a parent dreading the frustration of a story in which somehow magically all the challenges would be minimized or overcome by some kind of deus ex machina kird of miracle.
And indeed, Don seems to be blessed with many advantages compared to any other Aspie I've ever met (yes, I realize that there is no such thing as an 'average' person among those on the spectrum), so there was a fairy tale like quality to his quest (how many protagonists get to look like Gregory Peck?). But there was enough that was recognizable to me from real-life Aspies that I could accept the story and the way it unfolded.
And in the end, I adored Don. His earnestness, his literal interpretations, his dogged efforts to apply "social protocols" he doesn't understand nor see the need for, his determination to hold on to his precious few friends and do what is right for them. Especially, the wrenching moments in which he embodied something I've seen over and over: that just because these individuals don't show emotion the way other people do, DOES NOT MEAN they don't have emotions. They show them and feel them in a different way.
I loved this story of how both Don and Rosie developed, and started right back at the beginning as soon as I finished it the first time. ...more
After reading a number of novels set in countries occupied by Nazis during WWII, it was interesting to to read about living under occupation through tAfter reading a number of novels set in countries occupied by Nazis during WWII, it was interesting to to read about living under occupation through the eyes of someone from a completely different part of the world and during a different time period. Amazing how some aspects are exactly the same across time and cultures.
The subject matter was interesting, the heroine engaging, however I struggled with finishing. I'm not sure if it was a matter of author style, or accumulated frustration at reading about the endlessly misogynistic attitudes of the times. In the end, it was inspiring to see how resourceful the women were in surviving emotionally in the face of enormous restrictions....more
Pro: - unpredictable - became immersed in the story and perspective of all 4 POV characters - set in a fascinating place and time - was intriguing to seePro: - unpredictable - became immersed in the story and perspective of all 4 POV characters - set in a fascinating place and time - was intriguing to see how such vastly differing cultures dealt with common issues of response to corruption, social order, approach to medical matters, ethnic bias, de facto slavery - how many issues were ultimately resolved - liked the realization of why the title was chosen
Con: - there is no question that the author writes in a highly skillful and creative manner. Yet every author has their own unique style, and it expressed itself here in a repeated technique of which I became over-aware over the course of the novel, such that my reading attention became split between story and wondering when it would show up again. It went something like this:
description description descrption description SENTENCE ABOUT A BUG CRAWLING UP A WALL description description description description
dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue SENTENCE ABOUT A BIRD DOING SOMETHING dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue
weather weather weather weather weather SENTENE ABOUT A BUG CRAWLING DOWN A WALL weather weather weather weather weather
dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue SENTENCE ABOUT A BIRD DOING SOMETHING ELSE dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue
It became kind of humorous in a way I don't' think was intended.
Overall: I suspect this story will remain with me for a long time, and I will certainly read this author again....more
We all read books through our unique personal mental baggage filters. This book had a great effect on me; it's impossible for me to say whether it wouWe all read books through our unique personal mental baggage filters. This book had a great effect on me; it's impossible for me to say whether it would have been as powerful even if it hadn't touched on similar issues as affect my extended family.
This is my first novel with a protagonist who has Aspergers. I don't know if a person who lives with this condition would think the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of the protagonist were realistic, but as the parent of a child who has at times been described as 'outside of normal' (a recurring theme in the book) in certain areas, I was completely convinced by the way the heroine tells her first-person story. I applauded her dogged determination to think of herself and encourage others to think of her as a person with a personality, rather than as someone abnormal and in need of a label ("putting a word on me", as she describes it.) I was so much 'in' the protagonist's head that regularly when reading, I was enraged at the apparently controlling, judgemental way the protagonist's sister behaves towards her. It was only when I stopped reading and thought about what had actually happened that I would recall the big picture of the situation and the utterly legitimate concerns the sister was trying to deal with, and that she regularly tried to discuss things rather than making all decisions over the protagonist's head.
What the story did well: demonstrating that "normal/healthy" and "abnormal/pathological" are not black and white concepts in terms of human coping, but stretch along a continuum so that individuals who have specific types of challenges can nevertheless locate the ares of life where they can develop skills and contribute, and that it is essential for their families (any anyone else who meets them, for that matter) to strive to support them in the process of identifying what those skills might be.
Why the story didn't rate 5 stars for me, despite achieving the "will I reread this?" requirement: What is the most fundamental concern parents of challenged children have? That when they, the parents, have passed on, that their children may become vulnerable to exploitation or neglect such that their basic living needs are not met.
This novel didn't answer those questions. At the beginning of the story, the heroine lives in her parents' home, and has all monetary and day-to-day transactions taken care of for her. She knows to hand pre-counted cash in pre-stuffed envelopes to delivery people, and can use a credit card, but appears to have zero awareness or curiosity of how money got into accounts or what will happen about all the myriad expenses that make up daily life now that her parents have died. By the time the story ends, she has made remarkable progress on social, emotional, and activity fronts, but there is no indication at all about how financial realities are being taken care of. It was a glaring absence for me....more
Loved it. Wonderful language, marvellous evocation of the court life with all the privilege and stifling rules that involves, compelling heroine forceLoved it. Wonderful language, marvellous evocation of the court life with all the privilege and stifling rules that involves, compelling heroine forced to find her way in a foreign world while figuring out if her new husband is a murderer. Had that great, magical sigh of satisfaction after finishing....more
- protagonist for whom you root with all your power
- great concept (how do children of parents with severe psychiatriPro: - pretty & relevant cover
- protagonist for whom you root with all your power
- great concept (how do children of parents with severe psychiatric illness survive psychologically?), there are some very well done scenes with the protagonist forced to deal with situations that are way over her head due to her father's coping mechanism of leaving town, of the protagonist alternating between affection for her mother and anger at the destructive impact of her behavior, of feeling free to express much more anger toward the not-mentally- ill father than the ill mother because that seems safer even though the mother contributed to her own problem by not following the advice of her doctors, of guilt due to magical thinking that actions on her part contributed to the mother's ultimate fate, of the loneliness and suffering caused either by agemates staying far away (either being alienated by the mother's behaviour directly or else perhaps forbidden from interaction by parents who in 1960's Ohio may not have understood that the illness was not catching). Those scenes were, for me, the great strength of this book. Unfortunately, that same strength contributed directly towards its greatest weakness (see below):
Con: - this book didn't know what it wanted to be. On the one hand, the protagonist uses first-person voice, and is still 12 at the end of the story; makes one think it is YA or even middle grade, right? And if this was the intended audience, then I am willing to forgive the recurring instances of word echo, and the tendency towards "As you know, Bob" type conversations in which the protagonist happens to be outside of a door just as a character asks another character a Significant question, and the other character provides the Fact Nugget which has the greatest possible impact on the protagonist. Yet there are too many instances of things that were out of character for the protagonist to know, both in terms of her age and due to her lack of exposure to many situations and even very few other people in her childhood, e.g. at a party she remarks upon behaviour caused by too many long island iced teas (which made even less sense because a few pages before, she wonders what is in that beverage). Another character tells her that her husband didn't like her in a certain dress because it made her look like a prostitute. I was still taken aback about this, wondering what that character would have done if the protagonist had asked what that meant, when the same character refers to another neighbor as "...a great, gaping vagina". Wildly inappropriate, and pretty much slams the door on this being meant for a tween audience. There were also too many instances of the protagonist describing things or thinking thoughts that just did not feel authentic for a 12-year old (even a precocious, well-read one). In particular, there was a scene in which the 4 year old protagonist is asked to give something up in a way which an adult would find highly poetical and soul-stirring - but would lead every 4 year old in the history of the world to have a full-blown (and for me personally very often IRL authenticated) temper tantrum. Because of all this, I am forced to conclude that despite the protagonist's age this is intended for a more mature audience, and I rate it accordingly.
- a middle-aged character leads the protagonist to engage in behavior which causes significant physical harm to someone, requiring hospitalization. When this is realized, I thought there would be some level of remorse expressed by that adult, leading to remorse expressed by the protagonist; instead the adult expresses glee at the misfortune, and two other adult characters later can't suppress smiles/laughter on hearing about lingering aftereffects when the individual comes home from the hospital. This is not my idea of "Southern charm" so frequently referenced on the book jacket. It is my idea of borderline sociopathic behaviour.
- my biggest problem with the book, sadly, ended up being with the character of Great Aunt Tootie. Sad because she was fundamentally a kind person, and really did become the protagonist's saviour in a number of ways. But there is no getting around her having failed the girl in two fundamental ways related to the primary theme of this book, namely mental health; by not having checked in with the girl and the mother sooner even though she informed the father of her conviction that the mother suffered from "psychosis" and that she suspected things were going downhill years before when the mother stopped replying to Tootie's letters. Second - and this is the one that blew my socks off - there comes a point when the protagonist has reached a point of emotional crisis, in which she confides her greatest fear: that she might herself develop a mental illness like her mother. This was a completely genuine fear, deserving of sensitivity and careful handling. What does she get? A knee-jerk platitude that that will not happen. When the girl asks how Tootie can tell, she just says "I just know."
That's it. No attempt to compare the protagonist's behaviour with possible incidents from her mother's behaviour that may have been precursors to her ultimate illness, no recollection of indications of concern from teachers/doctors/friends of her mother which have not come up for the protagonist, no question about whether the protagonist has observed anything about herself which causes her concern, no promise to take her to a qualified professional for a trained opinion on whether there are any aspects that need attention. All of those would have been a reasonable response to this serious worry the child has developed, with very good reason.
Not since the message that childhood sexual assault is somehow fixed all by itself by letting time go by as conveyed in "Julie of the Wolves" have I been so appalled at the flagrant inadequacy of how to deal with childhood trauma. Because healing from mental illness (even if not one's own) is the central theme of the story, this glaring lack forces me to give a rating of 2 stars despite the other strengths of the story. ...more
Wildly creative. Brilliant world-building on all levels - a post-catastrophic world with the nature of the catastrophe never spelledHighly recommend!
Wildly creative. Brilliant world-building on all levels - a post-catastrophic world with the nature of the catastrophe never spelled out, detailed and believable characterization of what could happen in a society where rules and non-innovation are everything and a strict caste system is built on how much of various colors a person can see. The satire is deft and made me wonder, as a person partially of Indian descent, what people who live in an existing caste system would think of the novel.
Very much looking forward to finding out how some loose ends will be handled in next installments....more