Stuck in Neutral Author:Terry Trueman Shawn McDaniel is an enigma and a miracle--except no one knows it, least of all his father. His life is not what it may seem to anyone looking at him. Not even those who love him best have any idea what he is truly like. In this extraordinary and powerful first novel, the reader learns to look beyond the obvious and finds a character whose spiri... more »t is rich beyond imagining and whose story is unforgettable.My life is like one of those "good news-bad news" jokes. Like, "I've got some good news and some bad news--which do you want first?" I could go on about my good news for hours, but you probably want to hear the punch line, my bad news, right? Well, there isn't that much, really, but what's here is pretty wild. First off, my parents got divorced ten years ago because of me. My being born changed everything for all of us, in every way. My dad didn't divorce my mom, or my sister, Cindy, or my brother, Paul--he divorced me. He couldn't handle my condition, so he had to leave. My condition? Well, that brings us to the guts of my bad news. Books for the Teen Age 2001 (NYPL), Books for Youth Editor's Choice 2000 (Booklist), Top 10 Youth First Novels 2000(Booklist), 2001 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA), 2001 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Readers (ALA), and 2001 Michael L. Printz Honor Book« less
We read this book a few months ago in our high school book discussion group, of which I am the advisor. Most all of the students loved this book, and it made for a lively discussion. In a nutshell, the main character is literally "stuck in neutral" and cannot voluntarily move, speak or communicate in any way. But, the cool thing is that his mind is perfectly normal, and he is really quite bright, as he says. Unfortunatly, no one knows it. So the story is told through his eyes, and includes his thoughts and feelings about day to day happenings, as well as his worries about never dating a girl, or wondering if his dad is trying to "put him out of his misery." One of the things I enjoyed, is that, when Sean has seizures, his mind tends to let him "float" out of his body, and he sees himself almost in a dream as being normal. It is really sort of beautiful. I always recommend this book to students who ask me if I know of a good, short book to read. :0)
In a phenomenally personal story Terry Trueman takes us into the mind of a profoundly, developmentally disabled cerebral palsy sufferer who's also a quirky, insightful, vibrantly alive 14 year old. However this kid is pretty much input only. Who can tell what goes on in the mind of a child who cannot even control his own eye blinks?
While the protagonist in this story is unable to communicate with anyone in his world , this book gives us an inner monologue that shows us a unique individual who's glad to be alive and who is relishing each and every new life experience with the wonder of a child (and sometimes that of a horny kid). This kid's inner monologue connects with the reader on a level that books seldom do. Written by the father of just such a boy, this book may even afflict the reader a bit too, only the body parts that the sympathetic reader will be unable to control are the tear ducts. And yet for the most part this is NOT a sad, maudlin, tear-jerker of a book.
One really needs to read this oneself to experience the full effect but even the visceral dread that one experiences as the kid describes his fear that his father may end his life in order to spare him continued suffering is only accentuated by the feel of having so few pages remaining unread in the book.
I've rated Terry Trueman's other book Inside Out as being an unsung work of genius, this, his first book, is perhaps even better. If you ever wanted to really fulfill that old adage about understanding someone by walking a mile in his moccasins, pick up one of these books.
I read this book yesterday while on a short drive to visit family. Yes, it is short enough to read (out loud) in only a few hours. Keeping in mind the serious topic, the book itself is lighthearted and enjoyable to read. It makes you think and laugh at the same time.
I was struck by the honest portrayal of the lives of Shawn's family members who are impacted by his severe condition. Sadly, their lives as well as Shawn's are lacking any faith or hope. As such, even the positive outlook that Shawn has towards his life is clouded by his fear, not of his father's actions, but of what he calls death's "emptiness". That is not a criticism of the writing, the story or the characters, but only an indication of the pain that families like Shawn can carry.
I'll admit, right off, that I'm a very opinionated person. I believe that's why I love books that have endings that leave it open to personal intrepretation--I can use my own belief system, my own views on the rights and wrongs of a situation, to concoct my own ending. Whether it be a happily-ever-after or a tear-jerker, whatever ending you prescribe to STUCK IN NEUTRAL will, no doubt, leave you pondering the book for days.
That being said, Terry Trueman is the kind of author I love to hate. I love the way he writes, the kinds of stories he tells, the way that, with only a few well-placed words, he can make his characters come to life. I hate it for all of the above, in that I can't do what he does! Oh, to have the ability to influence someone so deeply that all they can do after reading your words is, for days afterwards, think about what you've read. It's an awesome talent, and nothing showcases Mr. Trueman's true gift of storytelling better than the life history of Shawn McDaniel, the boy at the center of STUCK IN NEUTRAL.
Shawn is what many people, "normal" people, would call a retard, a vegetable, a shell of a boy with no one home inside. In a way, they'd be right, but in all the ways that matter, they would be horribly, horribly wrong. Because Shawn is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting young men you could ever hope to meet. Although he can't speak, can't walk, and can't even control any of his movements as simple as winking his eyelids, Shawn is, in effect, a genius. He can remember everything he's ever heard--from a television commercial, to a music lyric, to a conversation overheard while waiting for the bus. He's also extremely brilliant, maybe even more so than a "typical" teen with an IQ of 180. Shawn learned to read by listening to his older sister, Cindy, play school. He learned about girls and beer from listening to one-sided conversations his older brother, Paul, had with his buddies on the telephone. He learned what unconditional love is by watching his mother bathe him, feed him, and take care of him every day of his life. And he learned what abandonment, brought on by love mixed with fear, was when his father, a Pulitzer-winning poet, left their family.
To say that STUCK IN NEUTRAL is about Shawn's fear that his father is planning to kill him would be correct, but it would also be wrong. Shawn knows the world only through what he glimpses when everyone thinks there's no one home inside his worthless body, and this book is, more than anything else, his story of life, love, loss, and hope. This is the story that everyone who has ever uttered the words "I'd do anything for my children" needs to read. This is the book that everyone who's ever laughed at the "retarded" kids in school needs to read. This is, without a doubt, the story everyone, for whatever reason, needs to read.
Shawn will stay with me for the rest of my life. My hope is that eventually my two children will read STUCK IN NEUTRAL and be better people because of it. In fact, my hope is that I'll now be a better person after having read it. Yes, it's that good, and yes, you need to read it today. If it doesn't affect you in some way, all I can say is that you're more of a vegetable than Shawn will ever be.