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review 2017-05-02 20:40
A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin | #AutismAwareness
A Corner of the Universe - Ann M. Martin

Hattie Owen enjoys peaceful Millerton summertimes with "houses nodding in the heavy air," being in charge of Miss Hagerty's breakfast tray at her parents' boardinghouse, and drinking lemonade on the porch after supper. Yet this year, it's different -- Hattie's uncle Adam is coming home. Returning from a Chicago school that's just closed and whose existence is kept quiet by adult family members, Adam is a 21-year-old man with a child's mind, having a knack for talking quickly, a savant-like ability for remembering weekdays, and a passion for I Love Lucy. Hattie and Adam wind up spending precious time together -- including a visit to the recently arrived carnival with Hattie's new friend, Leila -- which makes her feel soulfully connected to her uncle, especially when he declares that she's "one of the people who can lift the corners of our universe." But when Hattie takes Adam on the ferris wheel one night, it sets off dramatic events that lead Hattie's family to strengthen its bonds and changes her life's outlook forever.





Young Hattie Owen has enjoyed the peaceful pace of life in her small Midwestern town of Millerton these past 11 years, helping her parents run the local boardinghouse. That pivotal summer in the 1960s, on the cusp of her 12th birthday, brings a new reality, one that will shake Hattie to her very core. That is the summer she is introduced to Adam.


Hattie grew up knowing her mother, Dorothy, to only have one brother, Hattie's Uncle Hayden. But quite suddenly one day, it is revealed that in fact she has another uncle, Adam, whose existence has been kept secret from her all these years. Adam, Dorothy's youngest sibling, has been away in Chicago, living at a special school for those with mental illnesses or disabilities. Though he was never given a certain diagnosis, it is believed Adam suffers from either schizophrenia or autism. Now that school is permanently closing, so Adam is sent home to stay with his parents until new living arrangements can be made.


Though initially startled by the news of Adam's existence, Hattie is undeniably curious about him. Before long, she finds they are actually something of kindred spirits, both knowing deep loneliness and a sense of not quite belonging in this world. It is also during this most important summer that a circus comes to Millerton, the biggest event to happen to the place in years! This circus brings Hattie a new friend, Leila, the niece of the circus owner and daughter of Pretzel Woman (a contortionist, I'm guessing). Leila's introduction into the story also fits in with the theme of not fitting into societal norms. In one conversation, Hattie asks Leila if it bothers her that people pay to stare at her mother who performs in a sideshow. Hattie's telling response, "It's better than them staring and not paying."


While Adam displays many traits commonly attributed to autism -- repetitive behaviors, fascination with / memorization of entire TV show episodes, emotional meltdowns over seemingly minor instances -- Hattie does lay out her confusion regarding his diagnosis (or lack of) and what it means in regards to the rest of her family:


I don't know exactly what is wrong with Adam, but maybe it is one of those diseases that runs in families. Maybe that is why Nana and Papa seemed ashamed of him. And maybe... is that why Mom and Dad never told me about Adam? To keep the knowledge of his illness from me? Do they maybe even think that I'm a little like Adam? Is that why Mom wants me to be like other kids -- so she can prove to herself that I won't turn out like Adam one day? I twist around and look at my family. I can't stop the questions from coming, And I can't ask a single one of them.


Though not overly complex in plot (but stayed tuned for the Ferris Wheel incident and all that follows up to the end!), A Corner of the Universe will definitely give young readers a small taste of the stigma that surrounded mental disorders during this era. Author Ann Martin does offer some impressive character studies within this story that will surely stir up healthy discussion. Most notably, there's Hattie's grandmother, one of the wealthiest women in Millerton. "Nana" had grand dreams of having that enviable family with the perfect husband and gorgeous & talented children. As life would have it, her youngest son required being placed in a group home and her daughter Nana pinned such hopes on, well... she "married beneath her", deciding to shack up with a "lowly" artist! Additionally, now her granddaughter has proven to be a bit of a social pariah, preferring to keep to her library books and inside her own mind. 


But it's not just Hattie's grandmother who causes her to wonder. When Hattie asks about why she is an only child, her mother responds with a pat answer of, "Well, you were just so perfect we didn't want to push our luck." After meeting Adam and observing how Dorothy acts around him, Hattie suspects she was kept an only child because her parents might have feared possibly having a child like Adam. 


Hattie doesn't see what the big deal is with Adam's condition. Though Adam is in his early 20s, his parents treat him almost like a toddler. Hattie witnesses his heartbreak when people stare, taunt him and call him things like "Freak Show". But she actually envies the way he views life. He is unabashedly happy in the small moments, endlessly entertained by the minutiae of one's day. Adam's love of soft & pretty things, not to mention is fascination with the lovely bank teller, Angel, boarding at the Owen home, brought to mind Lenny from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, who similarly had a childlike innocent love of the small things in life. But there is also a serious side to Adam that comes out when moments become especially trying for him, a side that shows he is all too aware of what is going on around him and how people see him. 


"No one knows," says Adam, "what it is like."

"No, I {Hattie} reply, although I think I might know more than most people.

"You are not an alien, Hattie. I am the only true alien."

But Adam is wrong. I am an alien too. 


This novel might strike some as a departure for Ann M. Martin, who is perhaps most well known for her Babysitter's Club series, but Martin also penned Rain Reign, which featured a young girl with Asperger's Syndrome who has a love of homonyms. Those curious about Martin's inspiration for A Corner of the Universe will find the Scholastic's After Words™️ section most helpful. It features an interview with Martin in which she explains that the idea for this particular novel was loosely inspired by events from her own life, namely an uncle she never met but was later told about who was deemed mentally ill. This section of supplemental material also includes historical overview blurbs of cultural topics Hattie references within her story. Also included is a neat reprint of a few pages from a 1960s era Junior Scholastic magazine!


above: "Baseball is a man's world! But girls are an important part of it. Why? Because almost every baseball is sewed by the nimble fingers of a girl. It has been that way since Civil War days, when baseball first became popular..."




For those curious about Adam's trick of being able to recall the day of week of any date in history, there is a page -- "The Amazing Day Finder" -- that teaches readers the math behind this trick so that they too can impress their friends! 


While there is some grit and sadness to the storyline, A Corner of the Universe does also show a love for small town life -- the way everyone knows you, the coziness of community coming together, small business owner pride, etc. While living in a small community can have its downside, readers who have experienced the good and have been distanced from it for a time will likely feel a little nostalgia for Hattie's particular little corner of the universe. 


A note to parents: this novel does describe a suicide near the end of the story. If you're particular about what images or information your child is exposed to during the younger years, maybe give this one a pre-read through. Though this book does include some sensitive material in that sense, A Corner of the Universe plays an important role in taking the first step towards educating youth on the importance of advocating acceptance and kindness to those who may be struggling with mental disorders / challenges. 

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review 2017-04-29 20:52
"A Corner Of The Universe" by Ann M Martin
A Corner of the Universe - Ann M. Martin

What I liked most about this book was the curiosity, honesty and instinctive kindness of Hatty Owen, the character from who's point of view the story is told. The action of the book is set in the summer of 1960 in the American small town of Millerton. Hattie is eleven, almost twelve, and is deeply content at the prospect of spending her summer vacation at home, amongst the people and places that she has known her whole life.


Although Hattie talks easily to the long-term guests at her parents' boarding house and to the people who run the local stores and the town library but she only one friend her own age. Partly this is because Hattie is shy and partly it's because she doesn't like the other girls very much.


One of the most pleasing parts of the book is the way in which Hattie slowly and almost wordlessly builds a friendship first with a girl who is part of visiting carnival and then with a girl who comes to board at Hattie's house. The slow building of trust seemed real to me.


Hattie's life is changed by the unexpected arrival of her twenty-one year old, mentally uncle, Adam, who Hattie had not known existed.


Adam's illness and it's impact on him and those around him, is depicted in a deeply empathic way but is all the more disturbing for that. As Hattie becomes aware of Adam's strange speech patterns, his manic energy, his unpredictable mood changes and the anxiety they create in those around him, she understands how isolated he is and the sense that he has of being the only alien in a world that has no home for him.

Adam's behaviour and people^s reaction to it becomes a lever which lifts the corners of Hattie's universe and compels her to reconsider what she knows about herself and her parents and grand parents.


The idea of meeting people who "lift the corners of our universe" and help us re-imagine ourselves is an interesting one but is repeated often enough to make me think, "Ok. I got it already. No need to say it again."


I am ambivalent about the structure of the novel as a long remembrance of the events of the summer, bracketed by a present day playing of family movies about the same summer.  I see that starting the novel this way builds the main characters personality and shows how deeply Hattie is embedded in her family while demonstrating the difference between the experience of the people who were there and the record that later becomes the basis of memory but I found it frustrating at the time.


The long remembrance that forms the core of the novel is full of vivid scenes and deep emotions that contrast sharply with the slightly distant reflections on either side of it, which reminded me of the black and white start and finish of "The Wizard Of Oz" movie.

The return to the present day at the end of the novel to deliver the moral of the story and explain the impact of the events seemed too neat to me and pushed the novel towards being a sermon.


I was initially put of the Judith Ivey's narration because her voice is too mature to be the voice of the eleven year old character but she got the rest of the characters perfectly and the initial dissonance soon went away.


I recommend this short novel to anyone who wants to spend a quiet afternoon absorbed in the life of a young girl who is exploring the nature of difference.

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review 2017-01-13 20:01
Mary Anne Saves the Day
Mary Anne Saves the Day: Full-Color Edition (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix #3): Full Color Edition - Ann M. Martin,Ann M. Martin,Raina Telgemeier

The aesthetic in the comics doesn't feel true to the original series (still holding out hope that Claudia's outfits get weirder/more fabulous), but the story does (probably because it's the same story... no noticeable updates there).


I think I enjoyed this one more than Kristy's Great Idea. The nine-year-old likes the series, and it makes me happy that a new generation knows the BSC. 

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review 2017-01-12 00:00
The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea
The Baby-Sitters Club: Kristy's Great Idea - Raina Telgemeier,Ann M. Martin I read this on January 12 in one sitting and I loved it! I'm definitely checking out the other editions that my work has. It is so 90s though--Stacey just moves in from NYC and is automatically accepted as a valid babysitter with no proof of any experience or certifications at all. Also, she moves just because she has diabetes?? What?? Never thought about how ridiculous that is before.
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text 2016-08-10 11:51
Bookish Bingo Mini Reviews
How It Ends - Catherine Lo
Kristy's Great Idea - Ann M. Martin
Without Annette - Jane B. Mason

How It Ends – Catherine Lo – 3 Stars

I read this in a couple of hours. An enjoyable, believable YA novel about how friendships form and fall apart and picking up the pieces when friendships go south. Tells the story of Jessie and Annie. Jessie has terrible anxiety problems, an over protective mom, a father who doesn’t believe she has “mental health issues” and her mom is just coddling her too much. While Annie on the other hand is a bit more outgoing. Her mom died, her dad has remarried only a short time afterwards, to a woman Annie despises, the woman has a daughter a year or so older than Annie, of the too perfect and who can do no wrong variety.

Jessie had some friends who ditched her and became queen bees/mean girls. They were horrible and in her eyes each one of these girls is always out to get her. She becomes fast friends with Annie, even though they are different they just seem to click and get each other. Annie doesn’t know anything about Jessie’s anxiety problems. Jessie develops a calming pill addiction. While the two girls click, and get to know each other, there’s a brilliant contrast between the two parental units and how involved Jessie’s mom is and how appalling Annie’s step mother is.

 Things start unravelling in the friendship, there’s boys involved, and Annie starts hanging out with the girls Jessie thinks ditched her and were unnecessarily mean.

Jessie starts to fall apart, and Annie gets very frustrated, even when she finds out about the anxiety problems and tries to help, even thinking she’s helping by telling the other girls what’s going on, it all goes wrong. Then Annie finds herself pregnant and can’t seem to understand how it happened – she’s very naïve about birth control and protection. The tables turn on her and she goes from potential queen bee to zero very quickly. It’s quite sad to see how horribly she’s treated by girls she thought were her friend. By this point she’s had a huge blow out with Jessie. Yet in spite of that, Jessie tries to be there, even though she’s now a little more confident and found some new friends of her own. She tries to help Annie through her hard time. It’s emotional on both parts as the two girls try to deal with their own dramas and situations.

The only real issue with the book I have is that at one point Jessie becomes addicted to her anxiety medication which her mom has kept locked up and only gives when necessary. A visit to the doctor says that’s a bad idea and Jessie should have access to her meds whenever she needs them. She becomes addicted, and unless I missed it, I don’t remember Jessie’s pill popping being dealt with. It’s sort of eclipsed by the Annie pregnancy storyline. Considering how attentive Jessie’s mom was with the meds, surely something should have been noticed? I don’t know, that was the only bit that seemed left without any sort of conclusion.

Other than that, it was a pretty good solid YA read with a great mix of characters and families.


Kristy’s Great Idea (Babysitter’s Club 1#) Anne M Martin – 5 Stars

I loved these books when I was young. I lost count of how many I read, I was completely addicted to this series. It’s basically about 4 middle school girls, who set up a club for babysitting in their small town, each one’s got a different personality – Kristy’s sporty, Mary Anne is serious, Claudia is the coolest kid on the planet, and Stacey is beautiful and sophisticated. Yet they maintain some tight friendship despite their own issues. Kristy has a huge family, lots of brothers and sisters both older and younger and her mom’s been seeing a new man with annoying kids and she’s determined not to like him no matter how nice he is  (I can't remember if her parents are divorced or if the dad died). Claudia has a mean older sister who is really smart and perfect in everyone else’s eyes and she’s constantly in her shadow. Stacey has a secret no one can quite figure out. Mary Anne’s dad is really strict. Re reading this as an adult it’s as good as it was when I was a kid, but there were definitely things about it I had forgotten.  So a great nostalgic reread.


Without Annette – Jane B Mason – 3 Stars

A boarding school novel with a f/f relationship. Josie fell in love with her best friend Annette and they have been dating for quite a long time. Annette has a horrible home life with an abusive mother who drinks like a fish and is a mean drunk, her dad barely seems to get involved or anything. While Josie has older brothers and a really supportive family. Josie manages to get herself and Annette into a really exclusive boarding school a long way from their small home town. So off they go thinking they’ll be roommates and can have a great new life. First problem – they are not roommates. And the academy is not quite what either Josie thought.

As if new roommates weren’t hard enough to deal with, Annette has decided she wants Josie to keep their relationship a secret. Annette has one of the most popular (and rich) girls in the school as her roommate. While Josie has the weird girl. (The weird girl turns out to be pretty cool herself and a pretty good friend). Annette’s personality starts to change and not in good ways. As a result, her relationship with Josie starts to suffer.

Josie starts making her own friends, particularly getting along well with some of the more adventurous boys. She’s got brothers she was close to so they’re all surprised when Josie’s quite capable of beating them at poker, drinking, and climbing trees. The classes are tough and hard work is expected of everyone. Josie’s coping, Annette is not. The novel deals with the stresses of new pressures, new friends and the relationship between Annette and Josie. My biggest worry about this was when Josie starts hanging out with the boys there are hints of feelings developing, and it was like, oh for fuck’s sake. Things with Annette are going south, please don’t let Josie be swept off her feet by a boy. Thankfully, Josie makes it clear she’s a lesbian, it’s not a phase and won’t be changing that. Phew!

A pretty good read for a boarding school novel. Though as much as a liked Josie as a character, I did feel her relationship with Annette was a bit flat and lacklustre. Otherwise, a fast, enjoyable read.


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