Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin (2014)

Rose Howard, who has OCD and Asperger's Syndrome, lives with her single dad, who has little patience for Rose's quirks, her obsession with homonyms, or her problems at school. Rose's dad often tries to cope by getting drunk, and time and again, he refuses help from his brother, Rose's kind and loving Uncle Weldon. Rose's dad does allow her to have a dog, however: Rain, whom he finds one night wandering the streets without a collar. Rose and Rain are completely inseparable - until Rose's father lets the dog out during a hurricane. When Rain doesn't immediately reappear, Rose realizes she may have lost her forever.

The most remarkable feature of this excellent novel is Ann M. Martin's sensitive treatment of a main character with autism. Martin perfectly captures Rose's character starting from the very first page, where Rose reveals her sweetness, innocence, and annoying quirks in the way she introduces herself to the reader. "Do you have a diagnosis?" she asks, showing just how much her own life has been shaped by labels. Martin recognizes Rose's frustrations as well as those of people around her, and creates a balanced portrait of her life and circumstances.

What happens to Rain and Rose's anger at her father are also handled very well in this story. Martin does a lovely job of filtering the loss of Rain through Rose's unique perspective and she conveys the sadness, hurt, and anger Rose feels in ways that are appropriate to her personality and to her point of view as someone with autism and OCD. Rose's diagnoses are not the defining aspects of her character, but Martin incorporates them into her character in a way that works nicely.

This is an emotional story, and dog lovers in particular will require tissues. (I am not a dog lover, and even I wanted to sniffle a little bit, especially when a twist about Rain's origins complicates the plot.) As a story about a girl who loves her dog, Rain Reign is the perfect read-alike for the Julia Gillian books and Because of Winn-Dixie. As a story about a character with a different outlook on life navigating difficult situations, it also compares nicely to Wonder (though Rain Reign is less transparently about "being different") and Rules (though Rules is a story about autism, instead of an ordinary story starring someone with autism.)

Kudos to Ann M. Martin for one  of the best-written middle grade novels of 2014.

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