As mentioned here, one of my first books after returning to reading was The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. This is a great read, a page-turner with enough excitement and plot twisting to engage even the most reluctant of readers.
I’m currently reading it with a Year 6 book club – five boys who had to be cajoled and bribed with popcorn before they agreed to give it a go. They love it. It has a reality that they connect with – London landmarks, tower blocks, a swear word or two, imperfect adults and snippets of technology.
What lifts this book above the fray is the subtle treatment of Ted, the main character whose brain has ‘a different operating system’. It is Siobhan Dowd’s description of Ted’s Aspergers which transforms this book from thriller into something more powerful.
This isn’t glossy or sugar-coated – there are times when Ted’s family are clearly exasperated and frustrated by his condition – but it is done in a way which guides the reader to see the world through Ted’s eyes and, for a time, via his ‘operating system’.
First time Ted did something a bit differently or said something odd, the boys in my book club giggled and thought he was, you-know, a bit of a weirdo. You could sense the pack tipping towards ridicule. As we read on, we talked about Asperger’s but also about big ideas, like respect and fairness. The pack tipped back; they started to empathise.
It is by reading, by imagining a character and understanding their often complex thoughts, that we empathise with others. We learn that other people see the world differently and ultimately that is what makes us human. This is what good books do and why reading is so important; it turns us into better human beings.