Thursday, July 9, 2015

Review: Fragile Bones by Lorna Schultz Nicholson

Title: Fragile Bones
Author: Lorna Schultz Nicholson
Publisher: Clockwise Press
Publication date: March 15, 2015
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Meet Harrison and Anna.

One is a fifteen-year-old boy with an uncanny ability to recite every bone in the skeletal system whenever he gets anxious – and that happens a lot. The meaning of "appropriate behavior" mystifies him: he doesn’t understand most people and they certainly don’t understand him.

The other is a graduating senior with the world at her feet. Joining the Best Buddies club at her school and pairing up with a boy with high-functioning autism is the perfect addition to her med school applications. Plus, the president of the club is a rather attractive, if mysterious, added attraction.

Told in the alternating voices of Harrison and Anna, Fragile Bones is the story of two teens whose lives intertwine in unexpected ways.

Many thanks to Clockwise Press for sending me this electronic copy via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I've been sitting here for a while now, just staring blankly at my computer screen. I'll start typing words and then DELETE DELETE DELETE. And then I'll stare some more and try to start again. I'm just not sure how to approach this book.

Fragile Bones, by Lorna Schultz Nicholson, is the first in a conceptual series of books that revolve around the Best Buddies program, which exists to provide opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disorders and to help them foster relationships. This book follows the journey of Harrison, who has high-functioning autism, and Anna, a high school student and overachiever whose goal in life is to get into med school (I guess?).

Fragile Bones was confusing. It was confusing because, as a character, Harrison was so captivating while everyone else in the story was just… not.

Whether the story was being told from his own perspective or from Anna's, I had such a clear picture in my mind of who Harrison was. It's clear that the author did her research on how a high-functioning autistic person might interact with the world. His speech patterns, his coping mechanisms, his behaviors – and how all of these things are construed to other people – felt very well-written.

Although it happened at a slow pace, you could see Harrison adjusting to new experiences and developing the ability to relate to other people. His growth was incremental, for sure, but it felt realistic, and I was glad (and relieved) that Schultz Nicholson didn't press the "easy" button and turn Anna into a magical cure-all for Harrison. She created a realistic representation of what it's like to interact with someone like Harrison, and she showed us a picture of what it's like to be on the other side of autism, managing all of these thought processes and coping mechanisms and rituals.

I loved Harrison's voice, which is why I was so disappointed that Anna's did not seem to be written at the same standard. She felt like a Mary Sue – empty, a shell of a person, with no real interests or flaws or meaningful struggles. I loved how aware, respectful, and patient she was with Harrison, but it just seemed like there was nothing else to her. And I felt the same way about all of the others characters in the book: Harrison's brother Joel, Harrison's parents, Anna's mother. Even Justin, the leader of the Best Buddies program, was completely flat on the page, despite his rocky family history and pseudo-mysterious background. They all just felt like one-dimensional people with canned dialogue and shallow character and plot development.

Still… although Fragile Bones may have had its share of weaknesses, I do think these kinds of books are really important in the world of YA fiction. They help us develop empathy for people who are unlike us, and if we're lucky, they teach us something important about these otherwise typically underrepresented groups.

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