The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Haddon, Mark (2003). ISBN-10: 0385512104/ ISBN-13: 978-0385512107

Teen Christopher has Asperger syndrome, a mild for of Autism. ‘Mild’ is in relation to the forms which leave a victim unable to speak, communicate, or participate in normal life, but the effects of Christopher’s Aspergers are not mild. He is full of fears and limitations. Four yellow cars in a row, brown food, being touched, these things can cause him to withdraw for an entire day. Christopher has difficulty processing too much information at one time, and does not understand human emotion at all. He has a gift for math and goes to an excellent school where he has a gifted and supportive teacher Siobhan. As the story begins, Christopher believes his mother is dead. One morning he finds his neighbor’s poodle outside, stabbed with a garden fork. Inspired by The Hound of the Baskervilles, which he loves, Christopher begins to investigate the murder of the dog. He soon discovers more than he imagined, as it is revealed that not only is his mother still alive, but his father is responsible for the death of the dog. To find his mother and protect himself , Christopher must marshall his courage and considerable mental resources to make his way to the city and investigate.

Reader’s Annotation
The death of a dog begins an investigation by Christopher, a 15 year old autistic boy, which leads to startling revelations, and demands all of Christopher’s courage and intelligence as he perseveres both despite and because of his condition.

This was an excellent book, a work of empathetic imagination which will call forth a similar effort from young readers. For the most part, Haddon stays within the limitations he has set himself—Christopherdoes and sees what a boy of his age and impairment realistically might. We see this world through his eyes, so his fears and reactions begin to make sense to us; the internal logic of his universe is revealed, and we see how his unemotional approach to the rest of the world has some advantages for him, even as we feel his isolation. Also, Christopher’s factual approach is helpful when he shares complex mathematical information—thanks I think to the little drawing, I briefly understood the Let’s Make a Deal puzzle, which would be a first. It needs to be mentioned that Curious Incident is not a ‘pitiful disease’ book—it’s funny and sharp, and Christopher has big plans for the future.

About the author
This book is a crossover opposite—Haddon is a well-known YA writer; this was his first book to gain attention also in the adult world. He worked with Asperger kids as a young man.

Curriculum Ties
I read the book for consideration as new English freshman curriculum; I think it would be excellent for 9-10 grade—many schools are using it.

Booktalking Ideas
The world of autism
Magical numbers
The Big Lie--your mother is dead

Reading Level/Interest Age
High school and up (SLJ)

Challenge Issues
I have read complaints that the portrayal of autism perpetuates the ‘Rain Man’ syndrome—perception that all autistics are gifted and capable of great improvement.
See reviews available on Amazon:

Why Included?
Considering for Freshman English next year

Selection Tools
YALSA Best Books for Young People 2004

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