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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Really Amazing Book about Fencing, Evil Corporate Bosses, Autism, Patterns and Dreams of Space Travel that would be Great for High School Students

Moon, Elizabeth (2003) The Speed of Dark.  New York:  Ballantine.

Opening Lines:  Questions.  Always questions.  They didn't wait for the answers either.  They rushed on, piling questions on questions, covering every moment with questions, blocking off every sensation but the thorn stab of questions.

It is the near future.  Lou Arrendale is autistic, but thanks to new therapies, he holds down a well-paying job working for a pharmaceutical company.  Lou and the co-workers on his unit are very productive, analyzing patterns in data effectively as a result of the difference the autism gives them.  The company gets a tax break for employing them and uses that money to build accommodations into their office unit -- including a mini-trampoline room with a stereo system and the freedom to make changes in their offices that are outside of normal company policy (for Lou that means fans and pinwheels -- the spinning soothes him when he gets agitated.)

But there are changes coming.  Newly hired Senior Manager Gene Crenshaw thinks the accommodations are a waste of money and he wants to get rid of them.  When Lou's immediate boss, Mr. Aldrin, protests that the unit makes a lot of money for the company and the accommodations have already been made -- they don't cost anything to maintain, Crenshaw hits on another idea.  The company has been working on a therapy that might be able to use nanotechnology to rewire the brains of autistic people to make them not autistic any more.  With subtle suggestions, Mr. Crenshaw makes it clear that Lou and his fellow workers should agree to be text subjects for the new therapy, and implies that if they do not, they might lose their jobs.  The workers meet and are divided about what they should do.

There is more to Lou than we see at first.  Lou goes one night a week to a sort of fencing club, held at the home of two married university professors, Tom and Lucia.  He has friends there too, including Marjory, who he likes talking to, and she seems to like talking to him too.  A fellow fencer, Don, seems jealous of Marjory's attention to Lou, and Lou's growing fencing skill.

When someone slashes Lou's tires and later smashes the window of his car while he is at fencing practice, Lou needs to figure out the pattern before he gets hurt.

This is a n interesting enough plot, but what makes the book spectacular is that we get all this through Lou's point of view.  This means that, through his eyes, we see patterns in things that most people would miss.  It also mean that we have trouble understanding the nuances of what people are saying to him.  Lou's voice is as captivating as he is a character.

Yeah, you might be asking, but how is this a YA book?  Well, I am not sure it is, actually.  I think it might just be a regular book.  Lou is not a teenager, notr is anyone else in the book.  And the themes the book wrestles with apply to pretty much anybody, regardless of age.  But I can tell you that it is a book that high school students would enjoy.  And it is a book that high school students should be reading.  The language is not particularly vulgar.  There is some violence in it, including a brief hostage scene, but all in all, the book manages to be gripping, thoughtful, and hopeful, all at the same time.  I think you should read it.

By the way, Audible.Com has a really wonderful audio veriosn of the book that I also highly recommend.

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