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STUCK IN NEUTRAL by Terry Trueman

STUCK IN NEUTRAL

By Terry Trueman

Pub Date: June 30th, 2000
ISBN: 0-06-028519-2
Publisher: HarperCollins

A teenager with profound cerebral palsy, who is utterly unable to give even those who know him best the faintest sign that he is sentient, narrates this devastating family portrait-cum-moral conundrum. Inside Shawn’s twitching, drooling, seizure-racked body is a sane, intelligent teenager with an eidetic memory. A sympathetic observer of the effect his presence has on everyone around him, he leads a relatively rich, if vicarious, inner life. It is fueled by dreams (or perhaps more than dreams) of flight, total recall of everything he has ever seen or heard, and feelings as intense as anyone’s: love, amusement, bemusement, frustration—and anxiety. He overhears comments about “ending his pain,” from his doting, tormented father Sydney—who has begun research for a biography of a man convicted of smothering a profoundly disabled child. Trueman has a son with CP, and has obviously drawn in part from that experience, both for the story’s events and for the issues he raises involving the social and emotional costs of caring for the physically helpless. Thematically, the story is built around Sydney’s dilemma as he desperately searches for reasons not to end his son’s life, and finds many seductive, compelling arguments otherwise; the abrupt, ambiguous ending leaves him on the verge of killing Shawn, or not, and so transmits his inner debate to readers. Though character is not the author’s strongest concern here, like the similarly lucid brain-damaged teen in Joan Leslie Woodruff’s The Shiloh Renewal (1999), Shawn will stay with readers, not for what he does, but for what he is and has made of himself. (Fiction. 12 )