That title is the question my fiancee posed to me when I ranted to her about this book. Honestly, I’d say she’s not necessarily wrong. Although Willow is never confirmed to be autistic, probably in large part due to her family situation being so everchanging and her school counselor being an abject failure, she clearly is, and the book seems to just be her, through some voodoo magic, causing drastic shifts in the lives of everybody she comes into contact with. Like she just exists as herself a couple times in a cab with the same driver and that’s enough for the guy to start acting like she has some divine wisdom, start doing whatever she asks, and use it all as an impetus for completely changing his life around. I’m surprised my eyes didn’t roll straight out of my head, across the entire circumference of the earth, and back into my head, I rolled them so hard. I get trying to show that being/thinking different can be an asset, but you don’t have to lean this hard into that particular lesson.
Likewise, Sloan didn’t have to lay it on so thick with Dell, making him so incompetent at his job, and at life, that he should’ve been fired practically right at the start. For example, he flouts rules left and right, such as not having animals inside the school. How he does this is even worse. Willow mentioned not being able to have pets, so Dell just finds some random cat, tells the children it’s his own, then continues to keep the charade up even after the cat hops out the window and the kids take it upon themselves to make hand-drawn lost cat signs. Worse still, he never tells them. He also takes the kids anywhere and everywhere without the proper permissions, and should’ve been caught red-handed and faced some repercussions in one of the story’s pivotal moments… yet, for some reason, nothing comes of it. He also lied on his resume, categorized kids into such scientific categories as “weirdo” and “misfit” and “oddball,” etc. Not one iota of him is professional, at least not until Willow gives him some of her magic touch.
Moreover, speaking of going too far, I felt like we spent over half of the book with our main character suffering from outright depression. Sure, life went on around her, and she still managed to have the same magical effect upon people, but it felt in certain ways like Sloan was trying to milk the situation for all the drama it was worth. Especially when the last minute reveal essentially retcons the entire book; either that, or tells us that Pattie somehow values Willow more than her own children. The fact that she was saddled with Dell was punishment enough. Everything else was just more shit atop the already massive cow pie. And the “happy ending” she does wind up getting doesn’t make the tiniest lick of sense, or feel appropriately (to me) “happy” because, as I mentioned, it hints at something darker.
Basically, I was on board with the book until it took a tail-spin down depressing, “mystic autistic,” incompetent adult territory. I had other concerns, such as the narration that was all over the place, shifting perspectives while all sounding the damned same, but that was background noise compared to everything else. It’s simply a mess of a book and I’m astounded that it rates so highly for everybody else (4.2/5 on Goodreads, for example). I’m sure to be in the minority on this one, but I’m used to it by now.
P.S. I can’t review it, since I didn’t finish it, but I still wanted to mention it somewhere: screw your autism/vaccine linking bunkum in House Rules, Jodi Picoult. I was reading that book first, enjoying it just fine… until the mother in the story launched into a multi-page rant about the potential link between the two. She does mention numerous studies have found no link between the two, but the character remains convinced that her child wouldn’t have autism were it not for the vaccines. I immediately closed the book after that. And, after some googling, I think I was right to, seeing as even medical professionals in the book apparently share in her suspicion about the link. I’m not saying you can’t have a character who has those beliefs, but giving her such a long, uninterrupted time to rant about it, in a way that is sure to sway the types of people that succumb to the belief in the first place, is not the way to go about it. Definitely not when there’s apparently little in the way of resistance to her ideas presented in the book. I’m shocked that I saw so many so-called autism advocates suggesting this book as a “superior” alternative to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Although Picoult’s book did seem more researched, from what little I did read, the vaccine bit sure didn’t, and feels far more insensitive than anything from Haddon’s book.