Friday, January 29, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon

This book was mentioned in "Love Anthony" and it was also on the Rory Gilmore reading challenge list. I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it work for the 2016 reading challenge, but it was available on kindle, so I checked it out anyway. And that's when I discovered it takes place in England! Score, "Book set in Europe" check!

This book had me all over the place. I was absolutely convinced I'd be giving in a 4 star review. There is a LOT of swearing. A LOT of the f-bomb...more than I'm usually comfortable with. (In fact, I just returned a book I tried reading for the 2016 challenge of a book where the protagonist has the same profession as you, so I picked "The Music Teacher" but it had so much swearing being used in ways I was not comfortable with and also a few other crude/lewd comments). But I just skimmed over those parts as best I could.

This book is told by Christopher, who is 15. Mark Haddon has said that this isn't a book about a specific syndrome or disorder, but about differences. However, with that said, the behaviors that Christopher has are highly correlative to high functioning autism/savant. He is EXTREMELY bright at math. He talks quite a bit about math and shows math equations and my eyes glazed over. I didn't even TRY to understand most of it. But he is not able to decipher non-verbal cues. He has a one on one teacher at his school for children with special needs, Siobhan, who helps him to understand the people around him. Siobhan wrote a happy face and a sad face, and Christopher knows what those mean. But once she starts drawing other emotive faces, he doesn't know what they mean. He doesn't know mad, frustrated, unsure, uneasy, confused, etc. He said he once made Siobhan write them all out and what emotion they were and he was trying to use it as a reference sheet in real live conversations but that the expressions changed too quickly and people were put off by it. He is very literal minded. He said that people are not specific enough. They would ask him to be quiet, but never tell him for how long.

The story starts with him finding his neighbor's dog murdered, being falsely accused of the murder, accidentally on purpose hitting a police officer (he doesn't like being touched, so he hit the officer to get him to stop touching him, but he didn't mean to inflict harm, if that makes sense). He lives with his father who lets him be himself for the most part and indulges him in the "rules" that Christopher has made for himself. He doesn't like yellow or brown things. He doesn't like his food to touch on the plate. If he sees so many red cars in a row on the way to school, it determines how Good of a day it will be, but so many yellow cars in a row make it a "Black Day" where he closes off and doesn't to anything. He is only allowed to have 2 of those days in a row at school. The third day, he shuts his eyes on the way to school so he won't know if he sees so many yellow cars in a row.

He explains that other people don't take in details like he does. If someone were to be in a field with some cows, they'd see some cows, the field, flowers, and then think that it was a beautiful day and their mind would wander to other things. For him, he can tell you the date, day, time, what the cloud formations were, exactly how many cows there were and how many were white with black spots and how many were white with brown spots and that there were two different kinds of flowers in the field, etc. And that he can't help taking in all those details. So when he goes someplace new, he's flooded with all that information and it's too much, which is why he doesn't like new places.

I can't say too much more about the plot without it being a HUGE spoiler, but let me just say that the ending is what tipped me to the 5 star rating. The way things were reconciled in the end both with other people in Christopher's life and with his own self-reflection/perception, made me smile and feel SO good! This story showed how hard it is to learn to live with people who think in such a different way than the majority of society, but how even though it's hard, we CAN figure things out and meaningful ways of communicating. For instance, since Christopher doesn't like being touched, especially not hugged, his parents devised an alternative. They will hold up their right hand, with their fingers fanned out and Christopher will hold up his left and he makes it so all their fingers and thumb touch and that means they love him.

So I think this book helps bring to light more about the similarities between all people rather than the differences. That sometimes there are certain things that are needed-Christopher doesn't mind going to a special needs school because they always have an environment that he is comfortable with-and it's not cruel or treating them as subhuman or anything. That it would be more cruel to ask them to be where they aren't happy or comfortable. And that there are MANY different ways to communicate with people. That adapting ourselves to others and allowing them to be who they are is not really such a hard thing. We do this with lots of people in more subtle ways, so why not just go all the way in more obvious ways when necessary?

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