Monday, July 02, 2007

On a Borderline

Borderline / Bonnie Rozanski
Erin,ON : Porcupine Quill Press, c2007

This a YA novel I've just read; Porcupine's Quill is a small and distinguished Canadian press who produces books of great physical quality. The size, the paper choice, all show great respect for their product, even though it is 'only' a teen novel.

On first glance, this is a story about a teenage boy living with an autistic sibling. Guy Ritter is nearly thirteen, and lives with his mother and scientist father, and a younger brother Austin, age 5. Austin is autistic and his needs absorb their mother, while their father spends long hours at his lab, where he is doing behavioural studies with wolves. The story follows Guy as he hangs out with his best friend Matt, helps with another new treatment for Austin, becomes attached to one of the wolves in his father's study, and navigates his way through a complicated school year. YA novels are often classified as 'issue' novels, and this one has issues to spare. Beginning with the major issue of autism (what causes it? Pollution, diet, genes?), the author then casually crams in a few more. Best friend Matt is obese, his mother has abandoned his family, and he has a new bimbo of a stepmother; furthermore, his father, also obese, suffers a heart attack near the end. In her search for answers about autism, Guy's mother discusses the dangers of electromagnetic fields, pesticides, corporate fast food, vaccinations, and food allergies. His father's work brings up questions of nature vs. nurture, as well as secondary issues of animal rights.

Despite this overloading, the story works. The family is well-drawn and feels very real. I felt the only stumble is in her hints that Guy might have ADD; enough problems for this kid to deal with already! His frequent mistaking of words was irritating as well, suggesting a younger child. For example, he at first thinks that Austin's diagnosis is "Austinism", he says "Bubbo" rather than Bubby in reference to Matt's grandmother, even though both he and Matt are Jewish. Perhaps that tic is intended to suggest another disorder that I'm not aware of.

Overall, though, the novel is a good read, featuring decent boys and lots of adventurous situations. Even with all the extras, the story is focused on the experience of living in a family centred around a special needs child. It is especially timely, illuminating the 'forgotten' sibling in this situation. The title is an expression of what she wants to examine in this novel: behaviour falls along a spectrum, and where is the borderline between 'normal' and 'not normal', or with regard to the wolf study, 'tame' or 'wild'? She does a fine job of bringing up many questions, without giving out any pat answers.

1 comment:

  1. That's a stuffed full story. Love the book's cover!


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