Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

With only 114 pages, this book can be read in an hour or less. That doesn't make reading it any less painful, however, as it might be one of the worst young adult fiction books I have ever read. At any rate, it certainly knocks The Southpaw out of the place for the book that I have enjoyed reading the least.

The thing is that the book probably should be interesting given the content. Shawn is a fourteen-year-old boy much like anyone else you would meet his age minus the fact that he has a case of Cerebral palsy so bad that he cannot control his muscles at all--not to speak, to move, or even control where his gaze is directed. Given that he has no way to communicate, everyone around him thinks that he has a severe case of retardation and has the mental capacity of a four-month-old while in fact Shawn is extremely smart and has a photographic memory. (I personally don't find this to be believable, but if this had been well written, I feel like it could have been effective.) The only time that he can get out of himself is when he has grand mal seizures which create a kind of out of body expierence for him where he can visit the people he loves with his spirit and enjoy the bodily sensations that he misses out on-- running, laughing, etc.

Shawn's father is a dead beat dad that is never around and has left the family. Regardless of his status as a father, he has gained national fame due to Shawn's condition because he published a poem about his "relationship" with Shawn that led to multiple talk show appearances and media attention. When Shawn's father finds about a man who killed his young son Colin to stop Colin's suffering due to his inoperable seizure condition, Shawn's father begins to entertain the thought of euthanizing his own son because he thinks that might be what's best. Through the novel, we watch Shawn panic as he tries to figure out whether or not his father will go through with it and kill him.

The one part of the novel that I strongly reacted to was the scene where Shawn's father goes into Shawn's special education classroom and says this:

"Shawn is profoundly developmentally disabled. I'm here with him today at his school. You might not be aware of it, but your tax dollars, to the tune of thirty-five thousand dollars a year in services, staffing, special equipment, and a wide variety of additional expenses, are used to support each and every uneducable child, like Shawn, in programs designed to educate the uneducable. That's thirty-five thousand dollars per child, per year, year in and year out. If 'educating the ineducable' sounds just a little too paradoxical to you, well that's exactly why we're here today, at Shoreline High School. We've come to visit my son and honestly examine just what your money is buying."

I seriously doubt that a student in a condition as extreme as Shawn's would be in a public classroom at all, but regardless, I became a bit upset about the arguement he continued to present about why there should not be an effort to educate the severely disabled in the public school system that are, in his words, uneducable. We got into a heated debate about this in the class that I'm reading it for (an education class, mind you) and I might or might have not flown off my handle at a handful of my fellow students. Moving on, though...

The most interesting thing about this novel was that it was written by a man who has a son (Sheehan) with cerebral palsy that has been identified as developmentally disabled in the same ways as Shawn was in the book. While I don't have children and I understand that Stuck in Neutral is a work of fiction, I can't imagine being a mother writing about a mother killing a child similar to my own, even if it was in their interest. I don't doubt for a second that Trueman loves his son but the father in the novel seemed like he was exploiting his son much more than he was acting out of love for him. To read about Trueman went through as a father you can read his interview here. (You must scroll down past the biographical information to get to it.)

There is a sequel to this book told from Shawn's brother Paul's perspective, titled Cruise Control.

1 comment:

SmallandWise said...

I really enjoyed this book, if it was a bit upsetting.It is possible for someone with Shawn's condition to be totally unable to control their muscles but be incredibly smart. Because the condition is brain damage, it usually has affected other areas, so it is unlikely, but totally possible. Also, about him being in a state scho, it was a programme for kids with severe disabilities, not a mainstream classroom, the state can't refuse to teach disabled kids. I do agree with your points about Truman writing this as a father to be very unsettling.