The Girl In the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz

girlinthespidersweb The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel

by David Lagercrantz

At the heart of the story is an eight-year old autistic boy, the son of a genius scientist who specializes in artificial intelligence, who is the only witness to the brutal murder of his father.  The bad guys who killed Frans Balder, the boy’s father, realize too late that although young August is non-verbal and appears to be severely intellectually disabled, he is actually a savant who is perfectly capable of identifying his father’s murderer.  And so the rest of the story centers around the bad guys’ efforts to do away with the boy, and Lisbeth Salander’s efforts to protect him.

On a side note, I have to comment on August Balder – or rather, the utilizing of a disabled character in fiction writing.  It’s become so commonplace that it almost feels cheap to me.  Here we have a disabled boy (who of course is actually brilliant, because a truly intellectually disabled character wouldn’t do – what possible value could such a character bring to a story except to elicit pity?), who, although he resides squarely at the center of the story, is nonetheless one-dimensional and stereotypical.  We never actually get to know August, nor are we given an opportunity to care about him beyond the fact that men are trying to kill him.  His character – and his disability – are merely convenient vehicles for a particular plotline.  I just wish that authors could do better.  Sadly, this is merely a reflection of society’s persistent views of people with disabilities: the disabled remain on the fringes.  Even when they occupy positions central to a novel, they are rarely fleshed-out, whole people in their own right.

Read the rest of my review here.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

71q9tVDYznL Freak the Mighty

by Rodman Philbrick

I read this months ago, and only recently realized that I never got around to writing a review. So now a lot of the details have faded from memory, but here’s what I remember (and my impressions):

“I never had a brain until Freak came along ….”

So opens this short novel written for the pre-teen set. Max, unnaturally large for his age (to the point that people are scared of him) has been deemed stupid, slow, etc., etc. all his life, and is in the special ed class at school.  The summer before eighth grade, Kevin moves into the neighborhood, and everything changes.  Kevin, who has a rare form of dwarfism, and who happens to be a genius, recognizes in Max what nobody else has before: that he’s actually a worthwhile human being.  Oh, and he’s actually not stupid.  Together, they call themselves “Freak the Mighty,” and go forth having adventures and giving the finger to everyone who disses them.

So, once again (see Out of My Mind and Wonder) we have a feel-good story for kids that purports to set forth a lesson in tolerance, compassion, diversity, and inclusion, but which fails because it denigrates intellectual disability.  It’s okay to be disabled, but it’s not okay to be intellectually disabled.  This is the message served up with lots of syrup to disguise it.  This message – this reiteration of the hierarchy of disability with intellectual disability at the very bottom – seems to be proliferate in children’s literature, which is, of course, merely a reflection of real life attitudes.

Sigh.

At its heart, this is a story about friendship and loyalty and discovering our own worth and believing in it.  Sadly, the other message kind of ruins it.