The Newbery committee got this one right. Twelve-year-old Catherine’s younger brother, David, has autism. Not only does he require the bulk of their parents’ attention, but he requires a significant portion of Catherine’s as well. While Catherine loves her brother and wants to protect him from the cruel realities of life and other kids, she also resents his embarrassing behaviors and neediness. To help her cope and to help David understand, she creates a long list of rules to define acceptable conduct.
Don’t open or close doors at other people’s houses.
Don’t look in their refrigerator or turn on their tv.
A boy can take off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts.
Catherine and David have a special way of communicating by quoting from David’s favorite audio book, Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. Though their mother believes David needs to come up with his own words, Catherine disagrees, and I love that she does. David may be borrowing words from the book, but he’s communicating his wishes and sentiments effectively. It’s a special language he shares with his sister, and it works.
When a girl her age, Kristi, moves in next door, Catherine is excited by the prospect of making a new friend but also worried about how she and her family will look to someone new. At the same time, she begins talking with a boy, Jason, at the clinic where David has occupational therapy. Jason is in a wheelchair and can’t speak. He points to word cards in a notebook to communicate. Their relationship gets off to a rough start when Catherine offends him by surreptitiously drawing his portrait in the waiting room. He doesn’t want to be drawn. To make amends, she creates word cards for him, giving him handy words like “whatever” and “stinks a big one.”
Jason clearly wants a friend his own age, and Catherine’s experience with David makes her a good candidate, but it takes her a while to realize that he is more a friend than a charity case. The juxtaposition of the two new relationships highlights what’s important in a friendship. In the end, Catherine has to figure out how to balance sticking up for herself, David, and Jason and fitting in with “normal” kids.
A wonderful read!
Your turn. What are you reading?