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Thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart lives in a world of dazzling color that no one else can see, least of all his dad. Words, numbers, days of the week, people’s voices—everything has its own unique shade. But recently Jasper has been haunted by a color he doesn’t like or understand: the color of murder.
Convinced he’s done something terrible to his neighbor, Bee Larkham, Jasper revisits the events of the last few months to paint the story of their relationship from the very beginning. As he struggles to untangle the knot of untrustworthy memories and colors that will lead him to the truth, it seems that there’s someone else out there determined to stop him—at any cost.-amazon
Atmosphere / Writing Style
It seems impossible to separate the two, so here goes. The book is from the POV of a 13-year-old boy with autism, prosopagnosia (face blindness), and synesthesia (a condition where you experience one of your senses through another). This obviously affects how the book is set up and how the narrative is explained.
Don’t be discouraged. Despite the filter of a boy on the spectrum who sees noises as colors, the prose is easy to follow. There are two storylines running along (mostly) parallel tracks that converge at the end, but Harris helpfully gives us dates, times, and color indicators at the top of each chapter so we never get lost in the when of things. Despite the complexities of the story unfolding around our central character, it is a simple read.
Jasper, our protagonist, is sympathetic, believable, authentic, and totally lovable. This is a character that I rooted for from pretty much page one. I loved how true his reactions to things were in terms of being on par with how the autistic people in my life have acted and reacted. Harris never relies on shorthand stereotypes of autistic people, but instead helps us see a bit of why a person might not get the joke or take something so literally.
Jasper is a fully fleshed-out character in his own right, but Harris goes a step further. She knows she is writing for an audience who will probably understand more than Jasper does about the world at large, so there are details and information that is there just for the reader… and while most of this is filtered through Jasper, not all of it is. This is a very delicate balance because we need, for the purpose of caring about the story, to be on Jasper’s side and that means agreeing with his worldview and motivations even when he has gotten some rather important facts wrong.
Specifically, the side characters are well written and while not three-dimensional and deep, they are more than cardboard cutouts despite the fact that Jasper sees them as little more than shadows and hindrances. A fair amount of time is given to Bee in this book but the character of the father is also nuanced and well done. Our opinions shift about them as Jasper learns more. There is a bit of sleight of hand by Harris in terms of who is “good” vs “bad” but thankfully because it is filtered through Jasper and his shifting sense of understanding, it works and is not a flaw.
The story is easy to follow… except for the parts that are (sometimes intentionally) misleading. At its heart, this is partly a mystery so it makes sense that everything must wait to be properly revealed.
The pace is well done as well. Again, there are two timeline tracks moving along in tandem slowly telling us the full story, but the balance between past and present is well done.
There is one thing… there is a twist that I won’t spoil. And… I saw it coming. For miles. Miles and miles. Now, I am a pretty voracious reader and consider myself a bit of a book nerd. Maybe I just picked it up. But… I am also just a reader going along for the ride and not trying to find the twist or predict that there will even BE a twist. So, I can’t help but wonder…. The twist is definitely a surprise to Jasper. But Jasper isn’t a terribly reliable narrator. It makes sense that it surprises him…. I just can’t tell if it was supposed to surprise the readers as well.
Entertaining / Would I recommend it?
Yes! It was a fairly quick read and I totally picked finishing it over going to bed on time. You don’t have to be an artist, familiar with autism, a lover of mysteries, or into British novels to really enjoy this book. Those things might help, but really this is a tightly written tragically funny whodunit told from a unique perspective.
Why THIS book?
Pretty sure I bought it at a bookstore in Carmel a few months back and it had been shuffled into the TBR stack. Why did I buy it? Well, the premise of a narrator with prosopagnosia trying to solve a murder is just downright compelling.
Additional Note: Years ago I read a book called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time which also is from the POV of an autistic young person. For a long time, I put that book in my top 10 all-time books, and while I am not sure it would still be up there, I do remember it fondly. So… if you read that one and enjoyed it, you will probably like this one… and vice versa (I hope… it has been YEARS) Here is the short and sweet (and spoiler-free) review I wrote for it ten and a half years ago.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?