Friday, June 28, 2013

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz

Colin Fischer never goes anywhere without his notebook. Within the spiral-bound pages is his guide to understanding the world around him.

Colin has Asperger's Syndrome, a degree of autism which presents with some ability to function and socially interact with others. Still, he has trouble understanding figures of speech, rhetorical questions, and metaphorical statements. He also can't detect others' emotions by looking at their facial expressions.

Needless to say, Colin's first year in high school is going to be a bit more challenging than it is for most students. The classes will be no sweat, but the cliques and social structure of teenagers is a mystery to Colin.
Colin's notebook pages have scores of tiny drawn faces with different expressions, along with the word for what those faces mean—angry, embarrassed, puzzled. Colin looks to his book for the clues of how the people around him feel. 

Clues are very important to Colin because they help solve mysteries. Colin's hero is Sherlock Holmes, the expert detective who uses logic and a close attention to detail to solve crimes.

It just so happens that an interesting mystery lands into Colin's lap. In the middle of the usual cafeteria chaos, a handgun falls out of a student's backpack and goes off. No one is hurt, and no one is completely sure who had the gun. The school has its suspicions and suspends one of Colin's regular bullies, but Colin thinks that he is innocent. Together, the unlikely pair team up to find the real culprit.

Told from Colin's perspective, the book invites us into the thought process of someone with Asperger's. The syndrome has popped up everywhere recently, and many people are trying to understand it better. We are seeing it in characters such as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and even Sherlock Holmes in the modern-day BBC adaptation Sherlock.

Authors Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz are grappling with it as well. Stenz has two children who have been diagnosed and feels that he has tendencies towards it in his own life.

It was announced several weeks back the the DSM-5, the manual for the American Psychiatric Association, is dropping Asperger's Syndrome as a separate classification in favor of placing individuals on an autism scale. Regardless of the terminology, people seem to be fascinated and want to learn more about it.

A great read-alike for this title and one of the first mainstream novels that told the story from an autistic perspective is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Not simply a great account of autism, it is also one of the best novels of the last decade.

I also recommend the two young adult books by Susin Nielsen, Word Nerd and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Their characters are not necessarily autistic, but there are some resemblances to Colin Fischer and the way he interacts with others.

With its humorous use of footnotes and its outsider's perspective of analyzing how our world works, Colin Fisher is a cleverly understated mystery novel, even when the mystery is figuring out someone's face.

Cross-posted at

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