A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about reading diversely, namely in reading books with characters with disabilities. What I’ve found in the time between was that these kinds of books aren’t as hard to find as some may believe–an alleviating revelation. Checking for books with the Schneider Award (cool name, by the way) is possibly the quickest route to an excellent book focusing on those with special needs.
This book was different. I didn’t have to search lists for this one–I didn’t have to search anything, really. I found it sitting nice and pretty on the new additions shelf in the library’s 2nd floor, right alongside where I found Persepolis. A quick eye over the book’s premise had me sold. Just what I was looking for, and by chance? The odds are spookily in my favor, dear friends.
Stuck in Neutral centers around Shawn, a fourteen year old boy with cerebral palsy. Shawn is on the severe end of the spectrum, with absolutely no control over any of his muscles and an inability to speak aside from involuntary vocalizations. On the inside, it’s a different story; Shawn is a genius, and although he lacks in communication, he has incredible abilities. His specialty is being able to remember everything he hears, no matter what he heard, where he heard it, or when he heard it. His family and everyone surrounding him believes he is incapable of thought, but the reality is the opposite; Shawn is witty and positive which a complex understanding of the world around him. The gift of hearing has served him well in learning what he knows, but it also has its drawbacks–including overhearing his father’s possible plans to murder him.
Shawn’s father, a Pulitzer-prize winning poet and writer, has a strong love for Shawn, but believes that Shawn living might be doing more hurt than good. Shawn wants to communicate with him, to tell him that he isn’t in pain and can understand, but can’t. Throughout the novel we learn more about Shawn, his family, and his past experiences that have built up to this moment. Whether or not Shawn’s dad realizes his plans is something you’ll have to find out yourself.
I like a book with a lot of perks, and this is one of those books. Not only is it short–only a mere 109 pages, so those with shorter attention spans can easily trek through this one–but Shawn is an intriguing and believable character. His self-deprecating humor and sharp wit drive this novel, and with each story or flashback we grow closer to him. The other characters don’t fall flat either–you’ll feel admiration for his mother and siblings, and a strange mix of understanding and distaste for his father. Possibly the most important aspect of this book is that it brings up an important question: are we perceiving those with profound disabilities wrongly?
There are some things I didn’t like in this novel. The frequent use of the “r” word made me cringe, and the shielded cowardice of his father made me angry at so many points. But for its length, it sure packs a punch. Be sure to read the author’s note at the end of the book as well for more clarification–you’ll be surprised at what you find.
Looking for a book about those with disabilities? Well, look no further! Stuck in Neutral is a great book that starts the conversation about the capabilities of people with profound disabilities, and it’s sure to stir up some interesting responses.