Friday, December 5, 2014

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin




Rain Reign joins the new and growing genre of literature told from the point of view of a young person with high-functioning autism, or Asperger Syndrome.  Ann Martin’s newest work also joins the ranks of other realistic fiction books featuring young protagonists who, despite absent or sub-optimal parenting, manage to thrive due to the support and intervention of another relative, educator, or community member. Rain Reign is also a story of a girl and her dog.  Many middle grade readers will find this to be a winning combination, particularly given Martin’s expert writing and character development.

The reader quickly enters the mind and life of Rose, a young girl who is fascinated by homonyms and prime numbers. These fascinations make for some interesting wordplay. Identifying homonyms is a source of joy for Rose that the reader gets to experience vicariously. Conversely, when Rose becomes anxious and agitated, the mention of prime numbers grows in frequency. Rose also occasionally addresses the reader directly to charming effect, with instructions to skip to another chapter, lest we not share the protagonist’s enthusiasm for homonyms, for example.

In many ways the strongest part of this book is the beginning, which is the more character-driven portion of the novel. Things become less interesting when Rose’s dog, Rain, runs away during a storm, she and her uncle set about finding her, and complications ensue. Perhaps this is because this plot-driven portion of the book seems less original, and reminiscent of a section of Kate DiCamillo’s excellent Because of Winn-Dixie. It could also be said that Rose’s obsession with prime numbers is not a new literary idea, given that in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, also a book about a young person with high functioning autism, the topic of prime numbers is also explored, even providing the pattern with which to number the chapters. To be fair, the question of whether people with Asperger Syndrome have an affinity for prime numbers is a topic of discussion readily found on the Internet, so perhaps both of these authors are simply displaying their research acumen in giving both of their characters this trait. Similarly, reading about the super-storm (named Susan in this work of fiction, but inspired by Hurricane Irene of 2011 according to an author’s note) through Rose’s eyes recalls the protagonist of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a post 9-11 work of fiction that also features a young protagonist who is presumed to have autism. This reader was left wondering whether employing the astute musings of a child with Asperger Syndrome as a lens through which to view catastrophic events (climate change, terrorism) might be a new literary device.

On a sunnier note, the character and voice of Rose are among many positive and creative aspects of this novel. The description of the interaction between Rose and her classroom aide, Mrs. Leibler, and Rose’s employment of “conversation starters,” in contrast with the more organic drawing together of Rose and her peers through her dog’s appearance at school and sparks of connection with her classmate Parvani all offer a window into Rose’s world. Having the opportunity to experience this world is a very satisfying experience for the reader. 2014
D. Rosen-Perez

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