Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Kristy and the Secret of Susan

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Kristy and the Secret of Susan (Baby-Sitters Club #32)

Author: Ann M. Martin

Date: 1990

Publisher: Apple /Scholastic

ISBN: 0-590-73189-0

Length: 145 pages

Quote: “The teachers and Mr. Felder and I are hoping that, through music, Susan can acquire some meaningful language as well as some social skills.”

Susan is the sort of child that even the Baby-Sitters Club are glad they don’t have to mind very often. She’s autistic, doesn’t speak, isn’t toilet-trained, but she can play anything on the piano. Note-perfect. Including the mechanical errors in the old LP on which she heard a song.

The strangest thing about Susan as a character is that, although she doesn’t seem ever to have learned to talk, read, or understand words, she’s swallowed (mentally) a perpetual calendar and can give the day of the week on which any date fell or falls. Some late-talking children, usually boys who are not autistic and who talk fluently when they begin talking at all, are in fact understanding words; they just learn to talk by mentally rehearsing their language, to themselves, until they can talk right, without going through the babbling and baby-talk stages. It’s possible that they might memorize huge amounts of written information, possibly as a visual image, before they’re able to discuss the information or even understand it, and regurgitate that information by rote. But how would Susan have absorbed dates if she didn’t know words? Something is missing, whether from the fictional story of Susan, or from the story Martin heard about some real child before creating Susan.

Maybe that’s why it seems to Kristy as if Susan must really understand things, as if a little more niceness from other children might precipitate a Real Breakthrough. Genuinely autistic children don’t have Real Breakthroughs; whatever they do perceive is sufficiently different from what the rest of us perceive that, if they do acquire meaningful language and social skills, it’s a long slow process. But maybe, if Susan can hear and understand words, she’s not really autistic so much as just extremely shy…? Kristy makes an effort…and it’s no use. Whether she’s been accurately presented or not, in the reality of the story Susan really is autistic.

This is one of the less cheerful BSC books, irredeemably, despite having a subplot that gives Mallory a summer “boy friend.” Autism is a sad thing. But everyone is very, very nice. Even the kids who are making fun of Susan do it in such a nice, subtle, sophisticated way that Susan will never care. Or know.

To buy it here, send $5 per copy + $5 per package to either address at the very bottom of the screen. You can get several BSC books into a $5 package, and we'll send Martin or a charity of her choice $1 per book.