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The Reinvention of Edison Thomas Hardcover – March 1, 2010
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From School Library Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
While I don't think it's said outright, the descriptions of Eddy's behavior suggest that he likely has Asperger's Syndrome. He admits that reading facial expressions is incredibly difficult for him and sarcasm is usually lost on him. He instinctively wants to take everything at face value, so he can't understand why Mitch could wish ill-will towards him when they've known each other so long. What else can they be except friends? But over the course of the story, Eddy develops new friendships with people who show him what true, healthy friendships should consist of.
This story is geared toward the middle-grade reading age and while it might not be the cup of tea of any reader of that age, I think it will highly appeal to those who love science, trivia, fun facts, that kind of thing. The scenes in this novel are broken up by facts from Eddy's memory, which he cutely refers to as his RAM or Random Access Memory (computer joke /reference). I personally really enjoyed Eddy's sense of humor. Though Eddy says he doesn't "get" sarcasm, he's actually pretty good at self-deprecation!
One of the moments that cracked me up most was when Eddy was working on a history assignment where he was asked to write a biographical essay on an important historical figure. Well, nearly everyone in Eddy's family is named after famous Thomas's and as you might have guessed, Eddy's namesake is none other than the inventor Thomas Edison. While Eddy initially prefers to choose someone else to write about, time crunch concerns cause him to go with the easy pick. As he reads about Edison though, he finds he and his namesake actually had a good bit in common. What unsettles him is Edison's propensity for fires unexpectedly starting around his work. Eddy makes the observation that for a guy who accidentally started so many fires, it's a wonder he was not the inventor of smoke detectors or fire extinguishers!
While I couldn't help but cringe at the bullying traps Eddy unwittingly walks into, I had to cheer when he comes to a point of embracing who he is, quirks and all. It's beautiful when anyone of any age gets to have that moment in life! :-)
I am actually on the spectrum, so I have a special interest in these books now and again, and read them with an eye to see if they do anything *wrong*.
The good: The bullying, and the misunderstanding about it, strikes me (sadly) as very realistic. The friendships somewhat less so, but I had a very unhappy school experience, I might be too cynical.
The sensory issues, I've been there, I can see that, no problems here.
I was a little concerned that while Eddy clearly *does* have a diagnosis (although it's not mentioned in the book) and at least one teacher (the gym teacher) is clearly understanding of him, the other teachers tend to act in a way that puts him at a loss, and then effectively blame him for it. However, this is a world in which kindergarten teachers can lead their class in "voting out" another student and not lose their jobs, so that's probably accurate too.
The story itself was interesting and compelling, and gracefully shows the lie that autistics lack empathy. Not understanding what other people are feeling (or why they feel that way) is not at all the same as not CARING what they feel or what happens to them.
The not so good: Eddy's voice is a little... well, stereotyped. I spend a lot of time reading autistic blogs, and I've never once seen one or met somebody online who couldn't use contractions. We're not Data on the Enterprise here :)
And while autistics do tend to have trouble with non-literal speech, that doesn't make us all Amelia Bedelia either, not just misunderstanding basic idioms but also consistently choosing the wrong literal meaning when two are presented. (Given enough time, most people can memorize a large number of common idioms, by just remembering them as a single lexical unit. This is, as near as I can tell, pretty much how NTs do it as well, which is probably why so many people can't spell expressions that have to do with "having free rein" or "handing over the reins" - they understand the meaning, but they don't really understand the idiom or they'd know it's a horseriding metaphor, not a kingship metaphor. But Eddy is pretty young, still.) Interestingly enough, Eddy doesn't have any trouble with the metaphorical use of "lame" or "dumb" (that one particularly bugged me as a kid, and I just wanted people to get it right already!)
This isn't actually a problem, because trouble with non-literal language *really does exist* for most autistics, but it's important not to overdo this. Some of these would likely have been memorized by his grade, leading to fewer monologues about how he didn't understand that and more about how he USED to not understand that, but now he knows what they mean even though it makes no sense. Halfway through this book I was wondering why nobody ever thought it worthwhile to take him aside and explicitly teach him some of these common idioms that he wasn't getting.
Also, the resolution just seemed a little pat. Maybe I *am* too cynical, but I just can't see a group of middle schoolers not only spontaneously deciding to form a volunteer crossing guard squad, but also spontaneously deciding to involve the outcast weirdo in it (this after two kids made it their full-time mission to become his friend!), and then getting it all set up within a week. I'd expect at the bare minimum more of a delay and some in-fighting there.
However, all told, the few problems I had with this book were minor. I think the only one that really bugged me was the refusal to use contractions. I don't know anybody like that, whereas I do know people who just don't get non-literal speech, or who only DO understand it and a few memorized or puzzled out idioms, but don't like the work that goes into understanding this sort of thing. (And the people I know are adults. I have no idea what they were like as teens, though I imagine that anything they have trouble with now they had more trouble with then, most likely.)
Although I don't think Eddy was ever "diagnosed" in the book, he seems to have an autism spectrum disorder along with sensory processing disorder. I was very impressed with the author's portrayal, in kid-friendly terms, of a child with his issues, and at the way she made me identify with Eddy. I was excited with him, upset with him, nervous with him, and holding my breath for him; I felt like I
understood the way he thinks and why some everyday things are so difficult for him. This is not only an impressive feat, but a really important one in a world where it is estimated that 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
After reading this book, children will better understand the "odd" child on the block who covers his ears when the fire drill sounds, becomes upset when the schedule is changed, and takes jokes literally. They will also hopefully understand that being friends with the "odd" kid can have its own unique advantages. And adults will understand how the simple gestures and acceptance of an adult can make a huge difference in helping someone like Eddy make it through a day in middle school.
This book is a must read for children and adults alike in order to foster an understanding and acceptance of classmates and neighbors who are "different" but still the same.
--Tova Suslovich, OTR/L
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