In this intriguing, almost mystical, debut novel, Mark Haddon whisks readers into the life of autistic teen, Christopher Boone. Christopher narrates this unusual tale, revealing the intricately balanced life of a family coping with a child who is markedly different from the children of their friends and family. Encased in a life of strange likes and dislikes, horrors, and brilliance, Christopher shares the struggles of an autistic teen that lacks the ability to discern the social clues to balance his life. An avid Sherlock Holmes fan, Christopher decides to do some sleuthing of his own in search of the person who violently killed the neighbor’ dog, Wellington.
As those who investigate murders know, sleuthing often uncovers well-kept secrets that can destroy people as surely as murder. This compelling book reveals Christopher’s brilliant, deductive reasoning ability and keeps readers on the edge of the page to see if the weapon in his pocket coupled with his fugue states, which brim with anger, will engender another murder. Add to those, the frightful treks he takes, and it’s a formulary for a mesmerizing tale. Christopher’s point-of-view is masterfully created by Haddon from the first sentence in the book. “It was 7 minutes after midnight.”
In a special school for the mentally handicapped, the fifteen-year-old teen discloses the challenges faced by other students, making it clear that he is anything but stereotypical. Rather, he is a genius of exceptional proportions, a person without the ability to deal with basic social skills taught from birth, a peculiar person on a peculiar quest. Difficulty dealing with noise and crowds and the fact that he loathes anyone touching him, makes him a sympathetic character one wants to protect. His alarming periods of catatonia add tight tension to the story, as do the repetitive patterns he uses to make decisions.
Haddon gives us an evocative look inside a family dealing with the unusual circumstances of a child with challenges, a situation that too often breaks a family apart. Listening to others, including his parents argue about him, Christopher translates their words into literal thought (much like someone learning the idioms of a new language), which teeter on disaster. This is an exceptional literary book of exceptional depth that creates exceptional hope. Christopher would say if you have three exceptional things in a row, it is a good day.
Reviewed by Mahala Church for her column Barefoot Reviews for The Book Breeze