Sunday, May 1, 2016

Reading More YA - Chase, Paige and Haddon

The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase

I mentioned this one earlier under its original title, The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden.  It was recently re-released for Kindle under the Haunted House title, and it’s still sublime.  Mary Chase was the playwright who came up with Harvey, and her children’s story is full of dark whimsy, as neighborhood bully Maureen encounters a family of wicked Victorian sisters. Oh, and the darkness is that classic-era, unnerving, subtle discomfort type darkness -- not the modern abuse and cruelty variety. Chase is a good enough writer to give you nightmares without detailed descriptions of felonies. 

Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I recently read the first in an action fantasy series that takes place in an evil and twisted version of the Land of Oz. Our hero is a teenager chosen to be the assassin that takes down the wicked sorceress Dorothy, while avoiding capture and torture/execution at the hands of her fiendish henchmen (the lion, the scarecrow, the tinman). 

It’s a story inspired by Wicked, and by all those YA stories about teenagers who are chosen to fight the big bad, but it’s also exciting and original, and well versed in the original Oz series (the fate of former proto-suffragette Jellia Jamb is nightmarishly gruesome).  I will probably find myself reading several more stories in this compelling and page-turny series.

 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

This book is, according to a forum I was recently reading, a neurotypical’s take on what it’s like to be neuroatypical. 

As a matter of fact, my brain has latched onto the concept of neuroatypicality and neurotypicality, and I’m currently immersing myself in related research, for future books. A lot of neuroatypical people seem to regard this story as being a little bit insulting, sort of in the same vein as the appropriation issues I was blogging about earlier. 

In fact, I lean toward the neuroatypical myself, although I grew up back when we used to call it “eccentric” or “geeky” or “free-spirited.” Back before everything became a diagnosis. I’m not too fond of diagnoses myself and try to avoid them as much as possible, but I’ll allow that I’ve got some fairly hardcore environmental sensitivity issues (which is why I’ll only venture into movie theaters for something major, like Star Wars) and I’m good at databases and videogames; make of that what you will.

And not only that, I live in San Francisco, which has a longstanding reputation as being a neuroatypical sanctuary, a haven for science fiction afficionados, hippies, commies, loudmouthed women and so on. In fact, that’s probably what sent me into science fiction, a genre founded by eccentrics, as opposed to the neurotypical-dominant world of mainstream fiction, which considers the subject to be either freakshow material or worthy of a Very Special Epsiode.

Dog In The Nighttime is more toward the Very Special Episode setting, as a boy with some kind of undefined Autistic Spectrum Disorder learns a parent has been lying to him all these years, prompting an adventure.

Personally, considering that the neuroatypical were being treated by forcible lobotomy within my lifetime, I’m very much in favor of a sympathetic book for neurotypicals to read (with an accompanying Broadway musical for neurotypicals that don’t like to read).  At the same time, I can acknowledge that people might have an issue with the cutesy, mascot-like presentation of autism drawn here, with a protagonist that pingpongs between high-functioning self-awareness and Rain Man inspired meltdowns. 

While reading this book, I kept thinking about Ignatius J. Reilly, hero of A Confederacy of Dunces, a similar kind of guy to Christopher Boone except without the early 21st century medicalization take. And I thought about the legions of super-bright and socially-odd characters that populate science fiction stories from Ender’s Game through Flowers For Algernon. There are enough neuroatypical characters to support a neuroatypical book club, and this rather medicalized and infantilized, variable-functioning character earns his place among them with a page-turner of a story with a few remarkable insights.

Dog In The Nighttime is a depressing reminder of how the real world feels about neuroatypicals who wander outside the boundaries of speculative fiction. It’s a good story for inspiring empathy in normal-brained parents-friends-associates, but it’s not a very good story for actual neuroatypical people, who will likely be confused/enraged by the way the author has compiled a pile of random symptoms into something disguised as a character. I can overlook that because the author has actually pulled off making an autistic character lovable.

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