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Stuck in Neutral Paperback – July 24, 2012
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Fourteen-year-old Shawn McDaniel loves the taste of smoked oysters and his mother's gentle hugs. Unfortunately, it's impossible for Shawn to feed himself or to hug his mom back. Shawn has cerebral palsy, a condition he has had since birth that has robbed him of all muscle control. He can't walk, talk, or even focus his eyes on his own. But despite all these handicaps, despite the frustration of not being able to communicate, Shawn is still happy to be alive: "Somehow all the things I think about and remember turn to joy... favorite movies... pinecones... chocolate pudding... the scent of Comet in a stainless steel sink.... Life can be great, even for me. Even for me." That is why he panics when he begins to suspect that his father is thinking of killing him. Shawn knows that his father is trying to be kind; he imagines that his son's life is an endless torment. His dad has no idea of the rich life that Shawn lives inside his head. And Shawn, helpless and mute, has no way of telling him.
Stuck in Neutral is a truly unique journey into the mind of a truly unique character. Shawn McDaniel, who is literally trapped in his own body, will serve as a powerful metaphor for teens who feel cornered by circumstances or their own physical shortcomings. Terry Trueman's first-person portrayal of Shawn is made all the more poignant by the fact that Trueman's own son, Henry, also suffers from cerebral palsy. This is an original and moving debut. (Ages 11 to 15) --Jennifer Hubert --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
First-time novelist Trueman raises ethical issues about euthanasia through the relationship between 14-year-old Shawn McDaniel, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and his father. In a conversational tone, narrator Shawn explains that when he was born, a tiny blood vessel burst in his brain, leaving him unable to control any of his muscles. What no one knows is that Shawn is a "secret genius" who, while unable to communicate, remembers everything he has ever heard. His condition, which includes violent seizures, overwhelmed his father, who moved out when Shawn was three years old; the man later won a Pulitzer Prize for a poem based on his experiences as parent to a victim of C.P. Weaving together memories with present-day accounts, Shawn describes the highs and lows of his day-to-day life as well as his father's increasing fascination with euthanasia and evidence that the man is working up the courage to personally "end [Shawn's] pain." The strength of the novel lies in the father-son dynamic; the delicate scenes between them carefully illustrate their mutual quest to understand each other. The other characters (Shawn's brother and sister, mother, teachers) lack this complexity. As a result, many of the scenes feel more contrived than heartfelt ("I always feel so guilty complaining about it at all!" says his sister). All in all, the book's concepts are more compelling than the story line itself. Ages 10-up. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
But Stuck in Neutral, told from Shawn's point of view, reveals a witty narrator with a photographic memory and a zest for life, even if he's not able to communicate it to his family. There's not a trace of self-pity, even though he's at the mercy of family and caretakers for everything from feeding to bathrooming, and he's in a class of profoundly retarded classmates. The plot revolves around the suspicion that Shawn's father is planning to kill him out of "mercy" for Shawn's suffering and his ever-present seizures.
The binding link that weaves throughout the story centers on his father's poem about young Shawn that won numerous awards including the Pulitzer. Now his father, who deserted the family years ago, is a celebrity for his poem that presents Shawn as a helpless, pitiable object, not the funny, smart teenager that he's become, if only in his head, and his father seems inspired by a recent "mercy killing" of another handicapped child.
Trueman does a masterful job of leaving the ending open (he penned a novel written from Shawn's brother Paul's perspective, Cruise Control, that explores Paul's feelings towards his brother and his situation, which is also open-ended in its final decision), and Shawn is an utterly hip, real narrator that shows us how easy (and dangerous) it is to judge someone based on appearances.
While the protagonist in this story is unable to communicate with anyone in his world , this book gives us an inner monologue that shows us a unique individual who's glad to be alive and who is relishing each and every new life experience with the wonder of a child (and sometimes that of a horny kid). This kid's inner monologue connects with the reader on a level that books seldom do. Written by the father of just such a boy, this book may even afflict the reader a bit too, only the body parts that the sympathetic reader will be unable to control are the tear ducts. And yet for the most part this is NOT a sad, maudlin, tear-jerker of a book.
One really needs to read this oneself to experience the full effect but even the visceral dread that one experiences as the kid describes his fear that his father may end his life in order to spare him continued suffering is only accentuated by the feel of having so few pages remaining unread in the book.
I've rated Terry Trueman's other book Inside Out as being an unsung work of genius, this, his first book, is perhaps even better. If you ever wanted to really fulfill that old adage about understanding someone by walking a mile in his moccasins, pick up one of these books.