Just recently, I was thinking that despite its prevalence in the US, it's been quite some time since I've seen a children's novel that featured a character with autism (I am not counting Wild Boy, since his autism is speculative and not the focus of that most wonderful book). Not since The London Eye Mystery have I encountered a great character with autism, so I was pleased to receive an Advance Reader Copy of Remember Dippy from author Shirley Reva Vernick.
Vernick, Shirley Reva. 2013. Remember Dippy. El Paso: Cinco Puntos.
It is difficult to believe how much Shirley Reva Vernick has packed into a slim, 156-page novel. Ostensibly a story about how Johnny, a teenaged boy, adapts when he is forced to watch his autistic cousin, Remember (Mem, for short), during much of his summer vacation, Vernick has also added budding romances, a local mystery, a neighborhood bully, a "new girl," and several small-scale disastrous events. The many subplots tie nicely together to create a fast-paced book with humor, drama, and a keen understanding of the challenges and benefits of autism. If you don't believe there are benefits to autism, I direct you immediately to Sy Montgomery's Temple Grandin.
While Aunt Collette toils at 7-11, Johnny soon learns that unkept promises or changes to Mem's routine are likely to spark a tantrum, but he also learns, with some amount of envy, that Remember is supremely happy in his life. He speaks without a social filter, saying whatever he thinks; he has a gift for excellence at video games; and generally, he truly enjoys his life and the people and animals within it.
Unlike Siobhan Dowd's The London Eye Mystery (Random 2008), which is narrated by its autistic protagonist, Remember Dippy's narrator is Johnny. Mem, however, plays a major part in Remember Dippy and has a well-developed character that eventually assists Johnny in developing one of his own,
The guys and I ate ourselves silly on shortcake - well, Mem only ate the whipped cream part, the same way he eats Twinkies. In between mouthfuls, he sang along with the band at the top of his lungs, even though he didn't know the lyrics, even though he couldn't carry a tune. ...
At first, I pretended I didn't know him, but that was pretty impossible since he was either right next to me or calling me every other minute. So I decided to ignore the people who were looking at us funny and just have fun tossing around the Frisbee Mo had brought. It's a free country, after all - Mem could sing if he wanted. And he did want. Finally, when it got too buggy for comfort, we called it a night.
The cover is rather unfortunate, though it's difficult to say what image might have made a better choice. Don't choose a book by its cover. Short, sweet, fast-moving, and informative, give Remember Dippy a try for its positive look at autism.
Look for Remember Dippy in June, 2013.
Fortunately for Vernick, though not so for union members, Hostess Twinkies, a focal point of the story, are on their way back to grocery shelves soon. http://abcnews.go.com/Business/twinkies-return-hostess-unions/story?id=19043854#.UZTZWLW1FDA