Allison's Book Bag

The SNUB Club by Diane Christiansen

Posted on: May 10, 2014

When her son was diagnosed with autism, Diane Mayer Christiansen drew upon her own childhood experiences with dyslexia to become his best advocate. Finding that there are too few children’s books that feature main characters with special needs, she decided that it was up to her to help fill that void. Christiansen’s heart is certainly in the right place with The SNUB Club and I wish I could recommend it. Sadly, it has too many flaws.

New authors tend to make many of the same mistakes: such as telling instead of showing, and dense information dumps. For example, rather than showing us that one of her characters is a tattle tale, she just tells us that he is one. And when she introduces Jackie’s autism, she stops the story to devote a full page to a description of the disorder. This isn’t necessary. She starts off well, by giving us a scene in which she shows us that Jackie hears music as unpleasant noise. She could then have explained that his reaction was due to his autism, given us one or two sentences more about it, and then could have allowed us to discover other facets of autism throughout the course of the story.

And then there are the clichés and stereotypes. Christiansen does try to give her bullies some depth, and yet they are little more than cartoons. The alpha bully and his two mindless sidekicks target Jackie and Cameron exclusively. They call them names. They sneer and jeer at every opportunity. And of course they are quick to put on a Mr. Nice Guy act in the presence of adults. But these bullies are an unnecessary subplot; the main story would have worked better without them.

Finally, there is the issue of how exactly to portray characters with special needs. Until recently, most children’s books had no such characters, and if they existed at all their purpose was to bring about change in the hero. And there are certainly good stories with characters with special needs in secondary roles, such as Rules by Cynthia Lord, wherein a sibling learns to live with her brother’s autism. A newer trend is to bestow special needs characters with super powers. The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is a good example of this. But do such stories have anything to offer children with special needs, given that they do not offer realistic role models or realistic solutions to real problems? On the other hand, who doesn’t like seeing someone like themselves kicking ass? One author who does write about kids with special needs in realistic situations is Kathryn Erskine, in her books Mockingbird and The Absolute Value of Mike.

In writing about two up-and-coming young detectives, whose powers of perception parallel those of Encyclopedia Brown, Christiansen seems to have chosen the super-hero model. It might have worked, too, if not for the heavy-handed storytelling. Witness Jackie’s words: “Wow, I can’t believe we’re actually catching the thief. I mean we’re just kids and we have ASD.” Variations of this message are frequently repeated throughout The SNUB Club. Then there’s the problem that the two heroes are annoyingly good. Their only “flaws” are those autistic traits perceive as such by others. For example, their black-and-white view of the world. Even aside from our heroes, the story itself is preachy. When doughnuts go missing, the teachers become lazy and mean until they discover the merits of health food.

I admire Christiansen for writing fiction that features young people with special needs. Diversity on various levels is a gap that needs to be closed in various forms of media. I’ll be interested to read Christiansen’s next effort; she clearly has a passion for kids with special needs.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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