Sunday, November 29, 2009

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

I am aware that I tend to criticize books for having "literary claptrap" endings or being "literary" in having unlikeable characters and only vaguely comprehensible plots, etc. However, I don't intend to come across as disliking "literature." I dislike a lot of it for the reasons stated, but a really brilliant literary work is, well, really brilliant. This is one of those really brilliant books.

Shawn McDaniel is 14. He wants a girlfriend. He likes rock'n'roll. He loves his family. He remembers everything he's ever heard since the age of three, and he might be kind of a genius. He has severe cerebral palsy and is completely incapable of communicating his thoughts to anyone, even though he has plenty of thoughts. And he thinks his father is planning to kill him.

I read the whole thing in one sitting, without even looking up. Usually I check the time ever chapter, get up to get coffee, put the book down to watch TV or write, even just stare at the wall for a while thinking about something else, but not this time. (Luckily the book is only 115 pages long, if it had been any longer I might've starved to death!)

I don't say this often, but this is a perfect book. The reason it's so short is that the plot I just described is the plot, there's no nonsense with subplots or insignificant characters or even insignificant thoughts. The pace is perfectly balanced to convey exactly the right emotions and not distract you with anything else. And yet at the same time the ideas are so rich that I could probably read the book several times in succession and not get bored. Both sides of the issue (euthanasia) are rigorously explored, and then you're left to let it sink in.

The part that fascinated me the most was Shawn's personality. He can't DO anything, he's sheerly receptive, and yet he's a fully developed character. It's an example any writer should look at, because it really shows how actions should conform to personality and not the other way around. There's a thingness, a separateness, about a person that doesn't have anything to do with who they are on the outside, and it's different for every person. There wasn't a single character in the book that didn't seem like a real person, and Shawn is unique, with an arresting, memorable personality despite the fact that he can't affect his surroundings in any way.

So to sum up: Wow. Read this. I'm going to buy it for my personal collection and I foresee I will be reading it more than twice. There's a companion novel called Cruise Control, the same story from a different POV, which I also have to read or I will explode, and then I'll start on Trueman's other books.

Buy Stuck in Neutral


  1. I read this book a LONG time ago, probably in 5th grade or something. I like it myself. It's a great book. I was surprised to see that you had read it. Most of the books I like are some that people have never heard about. Lol I guess I'm not that out there.

  2. Sounds like a cool title - thanks for the tip!


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