Stuck In Neutral, Terry Trueman

My sister recommended this book after having it assigned at school (she goes to college, but I know this book is also assigned to younger high schoolers). “It’ll take you a day, and it’s worth it,” she promised me. True on both accounts!

HarperTempest, 2000

Our protagonist, 14-year-old Shawn, on top of being extremely smart, also has an extreme disability. Though his mind functions normally, Cerebral Palsy (C.P.) fully controls his body. He is in no way able to control his muscles, from his arms and legs, to his tongue, to his eyes. He can’t blink on command, can’t swallow when he wants to, can’t make a single voluntary sound. That means he is unable to communicate – and it has effectively kept his family and the rest of the world from knowing who he really is. To everyone on the outside, Shawn is a ‘vegetable’. And here’s the real problem: says Shawn, “I think my father is planning to kill me”. With no way to stop it, and no way to signal to his father that there’s a lively soul inside his useless body, Shawn is forced to watch as his father’s vague interest in euthanasia becomes an obsession.

Written by a man who has a son with severe C.P. (a boy much in the same position as Shawn), this was an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking read. In his author’s note, Trueman makes a point of saying no one will ever know if the vacancy we see in such highly disabled people is actually a sign that they are somehow ‘brain dead’, or if they’re fully aware and just can’t do anything to show it. That great unknown is what makes this work of fiction so heart-wrenching – it could be reflective of someone’s true experiences.

At 114 pages, and with an unforgettable character who has so much to say, there’s no reason for anyone not to read this book.

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