Reviewed by Jeanne
Fifteen year old Christopher likes to go out walking at night when he can look up at the stars and pretend that he’s the only person in the world, because Christopher doesn’t really like people. Most are a mystery to him with unreadable expressions and erratic behavior. This upsets Christopher. He likes things to be orderly, like numbers, and behave in predictable ways. This is why he has decided to assign his chapters prime numbers instead of the more usual 1,2, 3, etc. sequence.
Christopher does like dogs, because you always know where you stand with a dog and they don’t shout at you. So when Christopher finds Wellington, his neighbor’s dog, lying in the grass with a gardening fork (think small pitchfork) stuck in him and blood, he knows that Wellington has been murdered. That is wrong. Murderers should be caught and punished, the way they are in Sherlock Holmes stories, so Christopher sets out to discover who murdered Wellington.
The problem is that people seem to get angry when he asks them questions – very blunt, personal questions. His father understands to some extent but there are times when he too yells at Christopher and tells him to stop his investigations. Most of the time his father is good and doesn’t try to make Christopher eat foods that are yellow. Siobhan at Christopher’s school is good too, and she encourages Christopher to make a book about his investigation which is what we are reading. Christopher’s mother was good too but she is dead.
Welcome to Christopher’s world. It’s an orderly world of black and white, of certainties, marred only by the inexplicable reactions of other people. He’s extremely intelligent and well informed about any number of topics from history to astronomy to mathematics, but bewildered by social interactions and incapable of understanding other people’s points of view. Christopher likes facts: things one knows that are beyond dispute. Lies and the idea of lying upset him, because if you are saying one thing isn’t true, then how do you know that anything is true? Such paradoxes can send him into a tantrum worthy of a two year old, not a teenager. He tries to calm himself down by working out quadratic equations in his head, but sometimes he just can’t help himself and starts to scream.
Thanks to BPL Book Bingo (“Read a book which has won a literary award”), I was able to fulfill my vague promise to myself and finally read this Whitbread Award winning novel. Because the entire book is written from Christopher’s point of view, the reader has at least some sense of what it’s like to be autistic, though Christopher’s diagnosis is never explicitly stated. While the mystery of Wellington’s murder is solved midway through the book, the ramifications lead Christopher and the reader to some startling revelations.
The book is by turns compassionate, moving, intriguing, and funny. It certainly lived up to its excellent reputation as far as I am concerned.
If you are intrigued enough to read further, Temple Grandin has written several interesting books about her own autism. In fiction, Kristin recommends Shine Shine Shine and How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, both by Lydia Netzer. There is also Samuel Hoenig mystery series by Jeffrey Cohen and E.J. Copperman.