Top critical review
9 people found this helpful
on October 29, 2012
Accelerated is a novel in search of an identity. The first half is a cross between a character-driven literary novel and a cheesy soap opera. The second half tries to be a thriller, while the overall theme suggests that Accelerated is a message novel. Although some aspects of the novel work reasonably well, none of its ambitions are fully realized.
Sean Benning beats himself up because he's not Wonder Dad. He doesn't take his third grade son Toby to Sight Training or to Occupational Therapy to improve his pencil grip. He can't pay for Toby's pricey private school, the sort of place that caters to the overprivileged, but his in-laws are picking up the tab, a circumstance that (like most of his circumstances) leaves Sean feeling humiliated. The school thinks Toby should be medicated because he engages in the sort of "distracting" behavior that is common among boys, but Sean initially resists the idea of turning his son into a drugged zombie.
For no apparent reason other than the need to drive the storyline, Toby's mother, Ellie, has disappeared for three months, occasionally phoning in her regrets. She resurfaces with a desire to take Toby over his Christmas break, which would give Sean the time he desperately needs to prepare for an art show that he scored on the basis of a mere three pieces. Ellie later proves to be such a self-absorbed ninny that it's impossible to take her seriously.
Parts of Accelerated hint at Bronwen Hruska's talent. Sean's concern for his son and struggle with parenting feels authentic. Hruska effectively conveys Sean's anxiety as he talks to Toby about the death of another student, as well as Sean's sense of frustration when he deals with school administrators and mental health providers who seem rather glib in their desire to pin labels on Toby.
Other aspects of the novel don't work at all. Hruska strives for biting humor and sweet sentiment but the story she tells is too obvious to reach those goals. Sean's attendance at a party where Bill Clinton hits on Toby's third grade teacher is laughable, while Sean's inevitable relationship with the teacher is predictable. A happy ending is forced, clearly created to appease readers who like happy endings.
Much of the story surrounds Sean's belief that Toby's school pushes healthy kids to take unnecessary medication and then covers up the disastrous results. In its implicit condemnation of school administrators and drugs like Ritalin, the plot becomes heavy-handed. I have no problem with the notion that normal childish behavior is misdiagnosed as ADHD and that schools have a vested interest in medicating boys as a control mechanism. I do have a problem with hinging a thriller plot on the proposition that drugs like Ritalin routinely cause heart problems in healthy children, that schools push for medication of every male student despite ensuing health problems, that they tell parents the problems are caused by peanut allergies or bee stings, and that parents are too blind and cardiologists too incompetent to recognize the truth. By flirting with hysteria, the plot loses its integrity.
Before the story spins out of control, it features a reasonably balanced debate about the merits and pitfalls of medicating kids. That theme could have been the foundation for a serious novel. By turning the story into a mundane thriller, Hruska cheapened an important debate, wasted her carefully constructed characters, and impaired the novel's credibility. Despite its merits, the novel never recovers from those flaws.