Mindblind by Jennifer Roy.
Marshall Cavendish: Tarrytown, NY, 2010.

Every now and then, a book comes along which leads me to an epiphany. Mindblind is such a book. The book itself is about a teenage boy (Nathaniel) who has Asperger's syndrome. He has all of the events in his life stored in files in his mind, like a computer. Often they open automatically, with no control, due to a key reminder. Sometimes he is so stuck in the memory that he appears to be in a trance. He is struggling to interact in a world that is foreign to him, beyond his understanding. Mostly, he can cope with this. Mostly, he interacts with people who know and accept and love him for the gifted person that he is. He is at genius level, though he insists he is not a genius due to his lack of an achievement that impacts society. So, through much of the story, he is on a quest to fulfill his genius potential. His breakthrough comes when he is at his very lowest point, withdrawn into his own world after an incident that he cannot face. Two breakthroughs actually: a mathematical proof (an epiphany) which earns him a grad school spot at MIT and song lyrics for his band as he pours out his math and science mantra in retreating from the world.

Nathaniel mentions people who possibly had Asperger's and made an impact on society, such as Einstein. I was confused about this at first, since the people he named didn't seem to be unable to cope in society, though certainly they are atypical. In reading the book, I was struck by how many of Nathaniel's "problems" are things that I have difficulty with as well. Some of them my husband and one son also share: sensory overload, problems with texture (especially food), stress regarding interacting with others, not fitting in, directness that others do not understand, obsessing about little things. Nathaniel calls his traits atypical; I'm not sure that they are. They are just more pronounced in Asperger's people.

One particular trait I have struggled with all of my life. I thought my inability to interact (I hate groups and can't start conversations.) was psychologically induced due to childhood environment. I also thought that it was a personal shortcoming that in 20+ years of adulthood I haven't managed to improve this skill much (with people I know and with whom I feel comfortable, somewhat improved). But my comfort level with most people is low and stress high, leaving me with a serious need to balance when I interact with hibernation periods.

My epiphany? I think quite possibly this is a biologically/neurologically based attribute that is ingrained deeply within me, not psychological. It is something that has caused me great depression for more than half my life, since I desire to interact with people but almost never feel like I belong. Maybe if I can accept this about myself and allow myself to worry less about what others think, I can eliminate some of the depression. I know some will still be there, because our society is going in a direction I cannot deal with or accept. I have been emotionally withdrawing in the last few years because of this fact. Financially, I am being pushed to be more a part of our society, and I do not want to be. At least not until our people agree that workers deserve to share in the profits resulting from their labor. Seems simple to me. People are more important than money.

Mindblind is a smart, complex peek into the mind of a younger teen who struggles to understand the world around him and runs, physically and figuratively, when it is too much emotionally. Not so different from most people. The difference comes through his inability to understand how others think, especially the culture that is so alien to him. Given his known tendencies, Nathaniel does a remarkable job of interacting. The complexity of the story is related to his processing of his experiences, old and new. Especially noteworthy is his relationship with his young half-brother who requires that Nathaniel treat him differently, just as he needs to be treated with understanding. From what I have personally seen of Asperger's and Autism, this would be an achievement to be proud of, making allowances for another's flaws. The story has some cool extras - the kids' garage band and Nathaniel's obsession with The Amazing Race (not a show I've watched, but I like what he does with it).

related-Asperger's syndrome, genius, rock groups, interpersonal relations
RL=6th and up

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