Fourteen-year-old Nathaniel Gideon Clark is a highly unusual boy with an off-the-charts IQ- loved but misunderstood by his mother, ignored by his father, and oblivious to social norms. For a brilliant kid with Asperger’s, a form of Autism, life isn’t always easy. Between his fraught relationship with his father and his confusing crush on Jessa Rose, the beautiful singer of the band he and his friends share, simply existing provides Nathaniel with many challenges. But Nathaniel has a goal. He wants to achieve something BIG so he can be considered a genius. Nathaniel read in a book that one has to contribute something great to society to be a genius, and becoming one would contribute some validation to a kid who fights fiercely to be his own person.
“Mindblind” is a really cute book and a surprisingly sunny addition to the Aut-Lit genre. It’s certainly not as dark as House Rules or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, although I think The Curious Incident… was a more important literary work. While I couldn’t relate to Nathaniel’s incredible memory or gift for mathematics, I could relate to his mix of keen intelligence and cluelessness. I have always had a high reading comprehension level and a impressive vocabulary, but who can take a girl seriously who goes out with ratty hair, shoes on the wrong feet, holes in the pants? People have actually thought I was mentally retarded before.
Luckily I have supportive parents, unlike Nathaniel’s dad, who only looks to prove that his son is normal to his ridiculous self-help clients. This leads Steven Clark to force Nathaniel to go to a loud, noisy, and (unknown to Steven) drug and alcohol-hazed party, with disastrous results. Throughout the book Nathaniel has a lot of anger and hostility towards his dad, and I was actually expecting them to have a cuddly make-up session, but it never happened. Nathaniel stays mad at his father, but lets down his guard and allows himself to bond with his half-brother Joshua, who Nathaniel considers his father’s ideal son.
These scenes are really sweet. I would like Josh as a half-brother. He’s a irrepressible ball of energy, and Nathaniel resents him because he has taken up a spot in his father’s heart that Nathaniel can’t occupy. I thought the character development was pretty good overall. Nathaniel’s best friend Cooper is cool. You know as a math geek you’ve found a true friend when he loves the song you wrote, “Get Your Algebra On!” I also expected the song Nathaniel and Jessa Rose wrote about Asperger’s Syndrome to be brought into the plot somehow.
Nathaniel was really nervous about it being sung, so I was surprised when it was never performed by the group (with the plot directive of bringing Nathaniel out of his comfort zone.) Nathaniel is a little like Sheldon out of The Big Bang Theory but unlike Sheldon, I did not actively hope for Nathaniel to embarrass himself or suffer a painful injury. Nathaniel is someone I could actually imagine being friends with in the real world. Brilliant, brutally honest, and quirky, he is equal parts hard to relate to and hard NOT to relate to.
“Mindblind”‘s writing won’t blow you away, but it’s not a disappointment either. I think it did a better job at portraying Asperger’s than House Rules by Jodi Picoult because Nathaniel is less of a stereotype than Jacob, House Rules‘ Aspie. This book has feelings, realism, and even a little bit of romance. It is very recommend-able. Even if you can’t see yourself in Roy’s profoundly odd prodigy, Nathaniel, you should have fun reading it and recommending it to friends.