2011 ALA/YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
Formulas are 14-year-old Nathaniel's friends because they relax him, an important consideration for someone given to panic attacks when he has to interact with people. Nathaniel is a high-functioning "Aspie," a term that those - like him - with Asperger's syndrome employ to describe themselves. Fortunately, formulas aren't Nathaniel's only friends. His neighbor Cooper is one; pretty, vivacious Jessa, upon whom Nathaniel has a serious but unarticulated crush, is another; and Molly - an Aspie like him - is a third. The multitalented Nathaniel plays keyboards in a band, teaches himself Mandarin Chinese, and is an absolute whiz at mathematics. And why not? He has an IQ of 182. A genius, you say? Well, yes, but don't tell Nathaniel that, for he has read that to be a bona fide genius, you have to make a contribution to the world, something he is determined to do (just as he is determined to kiss Jessa). Roy (Yellow Star, 2006) has written an extraordinary novel with highly developed, good-hearted, and appealing characters (except for Nathaniel's father, who is a real stinker); a beautifully realized first-person voice that offers us an often humorous and intimate look into the mind and daily life of an Aspie; and a compelling story filled with surprises and drama. To read it is to want to read it again and again.
School Library Journal:
Imagine you have a photographic memory but can't read everyday social cues; you can understand quantum physics, but cannot understand a mother's need to give you a hug. Imagine your happiest moments are spent in your room with your computer, but your mother and your therapist make you venture out into society on a daily basis. Nathaniel, a 14-year-old with Asperger's syndrome, faces these dilemmas and more. Mindblind is told in his voice, making use of memory flashbacks that he has coded much like files on a computer. He is homeschooled and has finished college, but has yet to learn how to handle tough social situations such as drinking at parties, negotiating boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, taking responsibility for friendships, and working through pitfalls in his interactions with his parents. Nathaniel is honest and funny, poignant and detached, driven to achieve his best, and is puzzled by the behaviors of others. Roy writes with a strong voice and the authenticity of one who knows children with Asperger's, yet Nathaniel's problems and concerns can and should reach a wider audience. The book is comparable in scope and effectiveness to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Doubleday, 2003), yet contains its own unique character and story.
Lovable 14-year-old "Aspie" Nathaniel Clark stores his memories in computer-like files in his brain, loves formulas, plays keyboard in a rock band, has some trouble in social situations, likes to spend time in his own mental world and really, really wants to be a genius. Nathaniel's father, now divorced from his mother, does not believe in Asperger's syndrome; he insists that Nathaniel can simply be "normal" if he chooses to. To prove this, he forces Nathaniel to go to a party, where Nathaniel unknowingly ingests quite a bit of alcohol along with his fruit punch. The sickness that ensues, coupled with the fact that Nathaniel thinks he sees the girl he loves with another boy, nearly results in institutionalization. Luckily, he has a great therapist, a loving mother and some incredibly supportive friends/bandmates who get him through the rough patch. The band decides to video-record themselves singing Nathaniel s rocking math songs, and they quickly become famous. There is romance, grad school and a job at the grocery store just on the horizon. Overly optimistic? Maybe -- but who cares? Readers will be happy to see Nathaniel succeed.
The Horn Book:
Fourteen-year-old Nathaniel is taking a gap year between college and graduate school, leaving him free to work on his goal of becoming an official "genius" by accomplishing something significant with his profound gifts. His devoted, firm mother keeps him connecting to the outside world rather than staying in the comfort zone of his Asperger's life, where he is normal. He understands that he is "mindblind" (it's hard for him to guess what others are thinking), but he has friends, including longtime crush Jessa, and he plays keyboard in a rock band. He also has his weekly stressful visit with his egomaniacal father and his new family, which includes his young half-brother, who Nathaniel perceptively sees is the gregarious, sports-loving son his father always wanted. Nathaniel's life mostly works well for him, until his father insists on his going to a teen party where alcohol is in the punch. Already on overload from loud noises, confusing conversations, and a disappointing revelation about Jessa, Nathaniel has a serious breakdown that marks the turning point of the novel. The specificity of the references may date the book quickly, but they seem essential to Nathaniel's concrete point of view. The outcomes feel a little optimistic, but like Beverly Cleary, Roy succeeds in presenting a unique and human perspective that allows the reader to laugh at her character's quirks while engaging with him wholeheartedly.
It is important to understand that not every person with Asperger Syndrome (AS) is a genius at something. Many have average smarts and talents, some have troubles academically... just like people without AS. Hence the saying: "If you've met one person with AS, you've met... one person with AS." Each person is unique.
MindBlind is just one story of one guy, Nathaniel.
I loved writing it, because I got to take what I've learned from my son (profoundly gifted, mild AS), and my experience as a special education teacher and Gifted/Talented teacher – and turn it all into a work of fiction.