I honestly knew less than nothing about this book before I started reading it. I had heard of it, of course, but I had it in mind that it was a children’s book and was probably some kind of whimsical urban fantasy piece, like a Wes Anderson movie, about some sort of night time dog.
Obviously, for some reason, it hadn’t registered in my brain that the dog on the cover has a garden fork sticking out of it. But I guess that just goes to show that I’m not as observant as Christopher, the protagonist of this book.
Christopher is quite severely autistic, and the book is presented as a novel that he has written (with a little help from his teacher, Siobhan). Therefore we see the events through his eyes and his unique perspective. Given that this perspective includes an inability to make things up that haven’t happened, I think that the author’s ability to see things from a perspective uniquely alien from that of someone who makes a living doing just that, is to be commended. The representation of autism isn’t perfect, although there are as many different experiences of autism as there are autistic people, but it is very good.
Now, I am not autistic and my father didn’t lie to me about my mother being dead and then kill a dog, but a lot of this book hit very close to home for me. My mother left when I was in my teens and I had to travel to London on the train by myself, and get the tube on my own, to see her. I don’t know, I found it a little strange to be identifying with this severely autistic boy, but here we are. I found myself in absolute floods of tears at times, as I found parts of this book to be truly heart breaking.
Is Christopher annoying at times? Undoubtedly, but that’s kind of the point. His quirks and habits are interesting at first, but you become increasingly frustrated with them…with him…and wish that he’d just get on with things rather than hyper-focusing on a road sign or whatever. But despite that he’s still the same endearing, likeable character. You find yourself feeling just as anxious as he is about whether or not he’ll get to sit his A-level maths exam. Or, at least, I did.
I agree with some other people that the ending is slightly anticlimactic, but then it has to be. There’s no miracle cure for being Christopher (because, ultimately, he doesn’t need fixing, he just needs people to understand that he’s different) and there’s no miracle fix for his messed up family. But Christopher, his father and his mother have all grown and learned things by the end of the book. And, well, that’s what matters. I don’t need some trite “and they all lived happily ever after” ending. Christopher still faces some big challenges in the years ahead and I find myself wondering how he met those challenges, and hoping that he made it to university.
There was a lot about this book I did not like and did not enjoy…mainly the way it made me feel, the way it dragged up certain memories from my past and reminded me of a time in my life when I was learning things about my parents I didn’t want to know and having to travel to London on my own (which is something I actually loved as a teenager and still love today…but the anxiety was also real). But, ultimately, I’m glad I read this book. It’s a good book and it made me think and feel, and that’s what good books do.