Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Sort of Borderline

By Bonnie Rozanski

Amazon ~ Powell's

Another novel about adolescent angst? Well, the protagonist is indeed going on thirteen and, with some justification, he is seriously stressed, but there this wonderful story diverges from the stereotype.

Rampant hormones, peer pressure, romance — all take a backseat as Guy Ritter wrestles with the challenge of attracting the attention of parents preoccupied with the demands of his autistic brother. And then there is the wolf, condemned to euthanasia unless Guy can find a way to spring him from a pen.

Adolescents will love this book, but there is much here for adult readers as well, including a short treatise on genetics and a graphic evocation of the consequences of a fast-food diet.

This book was the very first author request I ever received for this blog. I probably knew then and there that it wasn't for me. I'm not much on realistic fiction—not enough escape for me. But it claimed to feature a wolf, and it had one on the cover, so despite my reservations, I said I would give it a try.

Unfortunately I was right, this book wasn't really for me.

Guy Ritter is a typical twelve-year-old boy. He doesn't pay attention in school, doesn't go out of his way for anybody, and his attitude is on the snarky side. Normally I wouldn't mind this type of character being the narrator, I usually like snarky-but-tough narrators. But I kept waiting for something to change, for him to break and develop something new, and I never got that. He's pretty much a snarky smart-ass for the whole book.

The author's pitch compared Guy to Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. Yeah, I guess I could see that...right down to the cursing. Now, I'm not saying that twelve-year-olds don't know swear words, or don't think them. But what parent in their right mind would allow their pre-teen to read a book with 60 shits, 18 bitches (they do deal with a lot of female dogs), and even 4 f-bombs? PG-13 movies are only allowed 2 f-bombs, otherwise they're automatically bumped up to R.

And yet, the narration style, subject matter, and plot all read like a middle-grade book to me. Guy is twelve, and his narration is basically what you'd expect of a twelve-year-old. No details, hardly any emotions (cause that's girly stuff), and not much interaction with conflict. It worked, but I don't know that it would impress or engage an adult audience.

I thought it was interesting to have an ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) narrator. A lot of the symptoms that cropped up, I recognized in my family: focusing on what you like and completely forgetting about what you don't, losing track of time when you're intent on something, being a perfectionist on some projects, etc.. But after a certain point, it seemed like it was just dropped. Nothing ever came of it, and it kinda ticked me off that Guy was overlooked like that. (My own sister wasn't diagnosed with ADHD [add hyperness into the mix] until she was a Junior in high school, having received F's and D's throughout school with no investigation.)

And that's even after Guy is finally noticed by—not his parents, not his teachers—a psychiatrist for his autistic brother. Dr. Sundance was by far my favorite character in the entire book, and he was present the least. He's sort of the Dumbledore/Gandalf/Oracle character of the story, the one who suddenly knows what's wrong and how to fix it. But you don't really listen to him because how could this crack-pot know what to do? He was by far the most fascinating, and I wish Guy could have interacted with him a lot more.

But Austin, once again, got all the attention. I honestly don't know much about autism. I've only read this, and one other book (A Wizard Alone) which featured it, so I'm far from an expert on the subject, but I thought it was addressed...okay? The story's more about Guy dealing with his parents who are trying to deal with Austin, so there's more animosity than understanding of autism. It's really picked apart once or twice with Dr. Sundance, but it was easy to pass over.

In fact, there's a lot of information in this book that I wish had been handled better. There's autism, obviously, but there's also a lot of genetic research technobabble, nutritional rants, environmentalist rants, slight pro-life themes, and even a little bit of religious bigotry thrown into the mix. There's just A LOT going on, and I found it hard to process everything at once. And even though it's all in there, Guy never understands any of it, so it just seemed preachy and unnecessary. Granted, I understood all of it, and agreed with some of it, but I'm not exactly in the teen-aged demographic.

All that being said, I didn't hate the book. I thought the style conflicted with the mature content but, if you don't mind strong language, it felt genuine. Guy's remarks and actions made me grow to like him, though I never did forgive his parents' neglect of him. And I thought the plot, though very ADD at times and quite twisty, was engaging enough for a middle-grade reader, even without Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements. It was different, unexpectedly so, but I'm glad I read it.

Overall, again, this book wasn't really in my wheelhouse. I also am having a hard time recommending it based on the content vs writing style conundrum. I guess if you're looking for a Realistic-Fiction book from the POV of a pre-teen that deals with current issues and don't mind some science, psychology, and saucy language, you might give Borderline a try.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 hours

I received this e-book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.