Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Life Happens Next

Life Happens Next, by Terry Trueman can stand alone, though it is a sequel to his 2000 YA novel, Stuck in Neutral. This new novel deserves its starred review in Horn Book and reviews can be found on Goodreads.

While reading this slim work of 133 pages, I was reminded of the question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it fall? Similarly, if Shawn, Trueman's protagonist with cerebral palsy, can't speak, move his eyes, his limbs or otherwise express emotion, does he have real feelings, an inner life? The novel answers the question in my opinion with a resounding yes.

This is a novel of great imagination that will make kids fundamentally question what it means to be human. What thoughts and feelings are trapped in the disabled who are written off, ignored, considered only partly human.

But of course, thoughts and feelings can be are trapped in people who "normal," not considered disabled at all. All of us can have trouble communicating. This puts Shawn on one end of a spectrum that perhaps includes everyone.

There are other interesting and unlikely characters within whom Trueman helps us imagine feelings. One is a dog named Rusty and another is a girl named Debi, with Down Syndrome. That Debi has deeper feelings is lost on the normal majority and so she sees a kindred spirit in Shawn who tells us:

 . . . I'm sitting in my wheelchair and Debi comes and stands near me again. She takes my hand and holds it. We look out the window. 
       There are two boats, their running lights sparkling against the dark water. 
       "Purtty," Debi says . . . 
       "Yep," I answer silently.
       We are quiet.
       "You are smart, S-S-S Swan, but no body know."
       
Shawn is incredulous as he listens and Debi adds:

      "No body know you smart . . . nobody know us . . . just us know us--You know me . . . I know you."

Terry Trueman is an talented writer. I laughed as I read, not at Shawn and Debi, but with them. When described empathetically through these characters' eyes, the indignities disabled people experience day in and day out can be absurdly funny. Trueman's use of humor is masterful and indispensable.

 




     








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