Friday, May 29, 2009

The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd: Eye Spy

The London Eye Mystery. Siobhan Dowd (2008).
NY: David Fickling Books. ISBN: 9780375849763.

Once upon a time, a book with narrator diagnosed with any sort of mental disability, such as Aspergers, were unheard of, barring a certain type of book that sensationalized the crazy (cough cough, Bell Jar, Girl Interrupted, I’m pointing at you). Then, along came The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, which crept up beside us (and up the best seller charts) and suddenly, a more positive outlook and favorable portrayal of protagonists afflicted with mental handicaps wasn’t so strange or scandalous any more. Consequently, voices previously marginalized with mental health problems, particularly those with Aspergers, are now being heard more frequently, though not regularly, in popular fiction and literature. Just this year, Francisco X. Stork released Marcello in the Real World, a story told in the first person by a teenage boy with an Asperger-like condition (it’s on my To-Read shortlist, and totally has the most gorgeous cover of the year, in my always right opinion). However, these titles seem to reach a slightly older/teenaged audience, and don’t allow for much crossover to tweens and young teens. Three cheers then for The London Eye Mystery, which safely will amuse tweens, teens, and adults.

Ted Stark is our middle school aged protagonist who also happens to suffer from Aspbergers. He is extremely high functioning and intelligent, is obsessed with the weather, has some self-identified trouble recognizing body language in others, and describes himself as being wired slightly different than most people. Ted and family are thrown for a bit of a loop when his estranged Aunt Gloria and her son Salim come for a quick visit on their way to move to New York City. Salim and Ted bond, Salim shares his unhappiness about having to move and be lonely, and Ted tells us that he now is glad to have five real friends (his teacher, Mom, Dad and sister Kat are the other four). On a visit to the London Eye, Salim disappears, somewhere between getting on, and getting off the ride. Has he been kidnapped? Run away? Spontaneously combusted (one of Ted’s theories)? Kat and Ted are desperate to solve this mystery as the drama of a missing child case fills their lives and causes obvious tension and strain for everyone in the family. Ted, with his mind like a computer, and Kat, his sassy and bossy big sister, may be able to crack the case, but not before Ted learns how to tell a lie, Kat learns how to listen to Ted, and Ted learns a little bit more about how to blend in a world that doesn’t accept him as he is.

I think what I love about this book is that Dowd manages to capture Ted’s voice and alternative thought process in a way that feels both organic and authentic. It doesn’t feel like she’s trying too hard, or that she’s going for any easy, stereotypical cop-outs in creating this interesting and well developed character. She is extremely talented in getting us to see that Ted thinks and feels differently than we do, in his very unique and detached sort of way, but still manages to make him an empathetic, charming, and even funny character. I especially love the ongoing sub-plot within this book, in with straight arrow, logic loving, and 100% truthful Ted begins to see the merit in telling a little white lie every now and then. This story also handles the events surrounding a tragedy like a missing child very skillfully; we see and recognize he agony and the drama, but are somewhat removed from it because our narrator himself doesn’t feel like the others do, though feel the same emotions he does, in his own way.

Best for: Older middle school students (lads and ladies both), probably 12-14, mostly because the American edition of this book still contains a lot of British slang younger readers may find confusing (along with the narrative voice). Adults will enjoy this alter-narrative as well – especially you Brit culture vultures. You know who you are.

Book Talk Hook: I would read either the section in which Salim goes missing, orrrr read the scene of the first time Ted lies. I think the humor and the mystery are the best ways to sell this one to our target tweener audience.

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