Viking, 2014 [400p]
ISBN 978-0-670-01553-5 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys - Gr. 7-10
Ever since Daisy’s autistic younger brother, Steven, turned from unresponsive little boy to threatening manchild, she and her parents have lived on a knife-edge of tension, fearing that a loud sound, a burnt waffle, an errant bad smell could trigger a violent outburst. Daisy empathizes with her parents’ desire to escape, finding release herself through playing her trumpet in the soundproofed room her parents have built for her. She knows that both her musical success and its limitations are due to her brother’s condition; her survivor’s guilt trumpets from every poem in this staggeringly honest verse novel about living with someone at the far end of the spectrum. What sets this work apart is that it tells the whole truth about that experience, from the strain it puts on a marriage, to the financial drain, to the compulsion to hide how bad things are and the isolation that brings, to the heightened emphasis on control and perfection that she and her mother experience, her with her music and her mother with her decorating and cooking skills. Readers may be surprised when Daisy balks at the idea of sending Steven to a group home, but it’s just another way in which the book renders the deep ambivalence of the sibling experience with striking insight; Daisy wonders if she will ever be able to experience relief without guilt, and she questions whether there might be something in her that is broken and autistic, keeping her from true feelings. Kehoe also deploys a complex yet accessible metaphor via Daisy’s contemplations about slavery in her U.S. history class, and she crafts a romance with a not-so-bad-after-all bad boy that begins as rebellion but ends as something like redemption. Gracefully eschewing platitudes about acceptance and advocacy, this is as real, poignant, and messy as it gets. KC
I read this, touched and delighted by the reviewer's insight into my book. Despite the lovely critical response, I continue to worry that my novel will not reach the readership I'm trying to touch before it starts down the inevitable road to "Remainder-dom" that its BookScan numbers foretell. I know this is the fate of most novels. But it never stops stinging.