Paperback, 336 pages
Published: June 10, 2008 by Grove Press (1st Published June 8, 2007)
Mother got married on a sunny day … Cass was already there, inside of her stomach. Mother could feel the baby kicking inside her the whole time. The baby kicked until mother kissed Dad and then the baby stopped kicking.
Where was I? I asked Mother.
You were up there in the trees. I was happy and kept jumping from one tree to another and the branches scraped my arms and legs when I jumped and landed, and jumped and landed. I had scratches all over. I could see the red scratches, but I couldn’t feel them because I wasn’t really me yet. I was just a part of Mother floating up in the trees.
Eight-year-old Sebby Lane tells this story in a poetic stream of consciousness style. He shared an intense bond with his mother, who died, along with her unborn baby, after being hit by a car. He is often cared for by his teenage siblings, Cass and Leo. They are frustrated by his odd behaviors, like lying down, perfectly still, under a table in the library, but they are devoted to him.
After an incident at school, Sebby’s father decides that the two of them will spend some time alone together. But the isolation causes Dad to unravel, leaving Sebby alone much of the time. As Sebby tries to understand his loss, he writes letters to his teacher, offering vivid glimpses of his life and what’s in his heart.
Sebby is deeply in tune with details, like his father’s big, soft hands, the earthy smell under the sink, the crunch of frozen grass underfoot, and his sister’s long, yellow hair flying in the wind. In many ways, through his eyes, the world is a collection of images and sensations.
As Sebby quietly sifts through his thoughts and memories, he treasures certain objects that belonged to his mother: a pair of shoes, an old photograph, a record album. In this way, he tries to make sense of what’s going on around him and of his own feelings.
Many reviewers have said that Sebby has traits of autism or Asperger’s. I agree. However, part of the beauty of this novel is that there are no convenient labels; there is no line tidily drawn around what’s “normal.” The protagonist is neither “autistic” nor “neurotypical” — he is just Sebby. What makes this book stand out is the richness and depth of his mind and experiences.