Stoneybrookite

the best friends you’ll never have

I’d like to preface this by saying that I don’t know much about autism, so please let me know if anything is inaccurate so I can fix it.

Inside Out is a book that I ended up liking a lot more than I thought I would. It becomes pretty clear early on, if you’ve read Kristy and the Secret of Susan, what this book is going to be about. Jonathan “Jonno” Peterson is an eleven-year-old boy with a nine-year-old sister, Lizzie, and a four-year-old brother, James. James is autistic, and his autism appears to have much in common with Susan Felder’s. James “shut down” at about the same age as Susan did, and also doesn’t really communicate or do much by himself. The Peterson family is able to start James at a special school, where he will be worked with intensely so that the family can possibly avoid Susan’s fate of being sent away, as this book bluntly puts it, to an institution.

In order to help the family afford this schooling, both Jonno and Lizzie find ways to earn money. Jonno also, with the help of a Kristy-esque friend, puts on a neighborhood carnival, and donates the money to the school that James attends. He gets a newspaper article written about him, which earns him the adulation of his classmates. This is another theme in the book: not being one of “cool” kids. Throughout the book, Jonno and his friends struggle with the “cool” kids in their class, especially when a child named Edward, or “Edweird,” joins their class.

The only thing we know about Edward is that this is his first year in a mainstream classroom, and he seems to dress in costumes and speak formally. I don’t know if we are supposed to understand that is he is on the autism spectrum. It’s never really explained. Jonno at first makes fun of Edward to fit in, but then stands up for both himself and Edward at the carnival. I do feel like more could have been done with this part of the story. I do think that, surprisingly, Ann was able to write from the perspective of an eleven-year-old boy. The characters in this book are more realistic and flawed than you might expect from her. Writing from a male perspective also I think tempered some of her “Ann-ness;” i.e., there is nary an I Love Lucy reference to be found. It makes me wish for more Ann books from unusual perspectives.

If you compare this book to Secret of Susan, at first glance, the Peterson family seems much more loving and involved in James’s life. But I think we have to keep a few things in mind. First, Secret is told from the perspective of someone outside the family. Kristy doesn’t know the heartache that led the Felders to conclude that Susan would be better off with professional care. Second, Susan is three years older than James, and it is hinted that Susan’s fate is still a very real possibility for James. I think that, like one of the posters on the BSC Boards said, if Hope Felder had been the older sibling and the narrator of Secret, we would have ended up with a very similar book.

Stray thoughts:

  • Okay, this is basically something that the book ignores, but to me is a Chekhov’s gun. Lizzie is mentioned as often spending time with a 15-year-old neighbor boy, Wendell. What 15-year-old boy is spending time with a nine-year-old girl, catching minnows?! It is treated as a positive thing at the end that Lizzie is spending less time with Wendell, and this makes it sound even more shady to me.
  • I thought it was interesting how Termite, one of Jonno’s friends, doesn’t like being around James, and he is not regarded as a bad person for this, but rather with understanding.

  • Has anybody read A Corner of the Universe? How does the treatment of autism in that book compare? (If you are reading this later on and you’ve read Rain Reign, I’d be interested in your thoughts on that as well.)
  • James’s school uses hugs as a reward, which contradicts the little I know about autism and even what we later learn from Susan Felder, when she uses the hug machine in European Adventure.

    External links:
    Are You There, Youth? It’s Me, Nikki on Inside Out

  • 2 Responses To This Post

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    beckcl78 said, April 14th, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Ohhhhhhhh my God, I’ve been trying to remember what this book was called for YEARS. This was my first exposure to the concept of autism as a child, and I’m not sure I ever put together the BBC/Ann M. Martin connection.

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    » Early Ann Books Readalong: Conclusion Stoneybrookite: the best friends you’ll never have said, June 30th, 2014 at 11:49 am

    [...] biggest surprise, though, was that the books I enjoyed the most–Inside Out and Ma and Pa Dracula–were books featuring male protagonists. I had always asusmed that Ann [...]

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