A Dog, a Boy, a Mystery, and Autism

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Hadden is a gem of a novel.  Written in the fifteen-year-old voice of Christopher Boone, who calls himself  "a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties," the narrative starts right out with the mystery to be solved.  A neighbor's dog has been killed, and Christopher is compelled to find out who did this because he really likes dogs.

Despite his father's orders to mind his own business, Christopher will not give up.  And thus the mystery and the daring adventures begin.  Christopher is a high-level functioning boy with autism, and his story is sprinkled with accounts of what bothers him to the point of making him lie on the floor and moan and seek the orderliness he needs to keep himself feeling peaceful. So besides a thrilling plot which never wavers, the book offers wonderful insights into Christopher's way of seeing the world.

With the increasing prevalence of autistic spectrum diagnoses, Hadden's novel seems important.  It transcends the simple facts that non-fiction might bring.  We do not hear about an autistic teen.  We are right there with him as he risks stepping far beyond his comfort zone to find his answers.

Someone in the book group which read this novel a few years ago commented that since the boy had autism he had no feelings.  But the author's whole message seems to be that Christopher Boone had intense feelings indeed.

At a time when a young man diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome senselessly sent so many into another -- perhaps the saddest ever -- round of grief, days of speeches and interviews and news, and wondering how and why an incident that will long be remembered as "Sandy Hook" occurred, we once again debate guns vs. no guns and higher and higher levels of security at schools and other public places. But doesn't the first level of security seem to be simple listening when someone is troubled? And listening.  And caring.  And listening.

There are so many excellent fiction and non-fiction selections about autism spectrum in our library system www.ocpl.org .  Two that come to mind are Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork, another fiction choice about a teen who is longing to be understood, or Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger's by John Elder Robison.  There are also  the well-documented successes of Temple Grandin. Many titles are uplifting.  All can help us understand.

In the case of this novel, however, it is far more than a great fiction book about autism.  It is a well-written best seller with multiple awards and is a great choice for reluctant readers.  There is a thoughtful interview by author Mark Hadden here.

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