Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Backlist files - "The London Eye Mystery"

Last year, there was a bit of kerfuffle surrounding Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, particularly following a post on A Fuse 8 Production.  Among the topics of discussion that grew from that post was the question of authenticity when portraying a character with a disease or disability.  Personally, I didn’t care much for Mockingbird, but my objections to it had nothing to do with authenticity.  I had no problem with the main character’s voice, other than finding it annoying at times, and I don’t have enough firsthand knowledge of Asperger’s Syndrome to make a claim for its realism one way or another.  I was interested, however, in all the opinions shared on the topic, and my interest was further piqued by the repeated mentions of Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery as an additional or alternative reading option to Mockingbird when dealing with Asperger’s.

As luck would have it, this title was on my most recent order list, so I would be able to give it a shot.  I remember The London Eye Mystery when it was released, but I don’t recall it selling very well (something I blame partially on the cover art – it’s a wonderful concept with the wheel and Big Ben, but a little busy and something unfamiliar to most Americans – and the fact that it was located alphabetically on the bottom shelf).  I was finally able to take the book home this weekend and I blew threw it fairly quickly.  As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, I’m not typically a mystery person, but this one got my attention from the first.  I imagine because it plays into a very common and frankly terrifying fear: a missing child.  The missing child, or teenager really, in question is Salim, cousin to our narrator, Ted, whose brain “works on a different operating system”.  Salim disappeared one afternoon when he got in a pod for the famous London Eye, a bicycle wheel mixed with a Ferris wheel mixed with a hot dog spinner, and never came out again.  His cousins Ted and Kat, who had watched the progression of his pod for the entire half hour it was in motion, can’t believe he’s gone missing, and can’t get anyone to believe them when they say he went up and simply never came down.           
With Salim’s mother, Gloria, in agony over her missing son, Ted and Kat try to put their best bits together to solve the mystery.  Ted has a number of theories, something his mother, who is usually the one supporting him, tells him not to share with the family.  Among Ted’s theories are spontaneous combustion, disguises and human error on Kat and his part, although he accounts for a 2% probability of this actually being the case.  One of Ted’s preoccupations is weather, and throughout the book, he compares his family to various states of meteorological distress: hurricanes, smog, etc.  This is especially true of his sister, Kat, who has been referred to in the past as Hurricane Katrina and with whom Ted says he has a “love hate relationship”.  Like many other words and phrases, this is something that Ted doesn’t instinctively understand, but must study, like body language, to become more familiar with them.

As I said, as a mystery, this takes the cake.  As an adult, I have at my disposal any number of horrible endings in store for a thirteen, nearly fourteen, year old boy gone missing in a city like London.  A few of them are even mentioned in the text.  In one frightening turn of events, Ted’s father must go down to the morgue and identify a body.  Thankfully, it is not Salim, but the fact still stands it was a young boy, lost in London, now dead.  That’s scary enough for a book for middle grade readers.  As to The London Eye Mystery being a book about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, I don’t have much to say.  I don’t think it is a book about Asperger’s.  It’s a book about a missing boy where the main character has Asperber’s.  The difference is all in the distinction.  I didn’t have the same problems with Ted’s voice that I did with Caitlin’s from Mockingbird.  I had trouble following his thinking from time to time and had to reread certain paragraphs, but never once did I find him annoying.  I simply felt, exactly as he described it, that our two brains were operating on different systems.  Communication was definitely possible; you just have to work a little harder to make everything connect.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
2007, Random House
Library copy

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