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Posts Tagged ‘attention deficit disorder

Just One Friend by Lynn Hall is another miss for me. For the most part, I appreciated the ability of Hall to get inside the head of her main character. Too bad Hall ultimately made her main character morally bereft. The plot also had too many contrivances to make this novel a hit.

Initially, I felt hopeful of liking Just One Friend. There are so many phrases which are poignantly real to how special education students feel. For example, one neighbor girl who is friendly to her, Dory writes, “I tried to make myself be proud of how smart she was in school, but it was lonesome sometimes, always being proud of her and nobody ever being proud of me.” When talking about how some teachers treat her, Dory writes, “She was trying not to say that Bingo was dumb, so I could tell it was me that she was thinking about. She knew I was dumb and she didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” Students with learning disabilities may not often confess to feelings like these, because honestly few of us readily admit to our insecurities, but Hall shows a great understanding of their inner thoughts.

Actually, Hall also masterfully nails how difficult it is for anyone to confront a challenge. Dory hated how her mom would turn to alcohol as a way to deal with the family’s poverty. Until the day when school administrators decided Dory should be mainstreamed instead of attending a special school. Dory didn’t think she could handle being an outsider, adjusting to a new routine, or finding her way around a new school. She wanted the friendly neighbor girl Robin to ride the school bus with her and resented that another girl Meredith was going to pick Robin up in her car. As Dory struggled with her fears about facing her first day at a regular school, she started to feel how strong the pull must be for her mom to just give up on life: “I felt so damn tired of trying and failing and trying and failing, and reading everything three times before I understood it and always getting bad grades no matter how hard I tried.” Doesn’t this make your heart cry?

About this point is unfortunately when Just One Friend “jumps the shark” or declines in quality. Dory decides to spread nasty lies about Robin and Meredith, with the hope that the two would break up their friendship. When that doesn’t work, she decides to stop Meredith from picking up Robin by causing her to have a car accident. If that isn’t far-fetched enough, listen to how Dory’s logic is presented: “And then when Meredith woke up maybe she wouldn’t remember about me hitting her, or maybe she’d remember it fuzzy and not be sure. People would just think she drove into the ditch because she was a new driver and hit her head on the steering wheel.”

It’s also about this point that I lost all sympathy for Dory. Her not-so-innocent actions end up causing a terrible tragedy. Despite feeling some guilt and remorse, Dory shows the most concern about how she fits into The State Training School for Girls, who stays in touch with her, and what friends she makes. Never mind that she tried to hurt someone or that she negatively impacted Meredith’s life forever. All that matters in Dory’s narrow mind is that she has finally found a friend. While students with learning disabilities might resent how easy life comes to the smart, the majority of them still have moral integrity. And so I dislike this surprise twist of events.

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

How would you rate this book?

Cover of "95 Pounds of Hope"

Cover of 95 Pounds of Hope

The jacket flap to 95 Pounds of Hope by Anna Gavalda says, “Gregory’s problems will be familiar to anyone who’s ever felt like a square peg in a round hole.” Unfortunately, while I have always felt like “a square peg in a round hole,” I didn’t relate to Gregory. Worse, I disliked him.

Gregory’s first sentence in 95 Pounds of Hope did catch my sympathy: “I hate school.” As a teacher, I have met my fair share of students who express that sentiment. Actually, despite my current chosen profession, I used to be one of those students. Yet it’s one thing to hear that sentiment in the first chapter, it’s another thing to hear it again and again down to the very last chapter. If Gavalda had made clear why the smell of chalk “sends his heart into the pit of his stomach,” I might have felt more sympathy for Gregory. Yet I never could discern a good reason for Gregory’s hatred school. Does he find schoolwork hard? Does he find it difficult to make friends? What’s the real deal? The best I can tell is that school doesn’t simply interest Gregory. Well, there are lots of things that don’t interest me either but they don’t make me sick. Moreover, there are lots of things that bore me too, but that doesn’t give me license to act rude to adults, refuse to take any responsibility for my actions, or engage in a self-pity party year after year.

For all these reasons, I disliked Gregory and felt little compassion for his disorder. The doctors diagnosed him with Attention Deficit Disorder. In Gregory’s words: “You have to be kidding! I know exactly what’s wrong and it had nothing to do with concentration. I have no problem. Not a single one. It’s just that school doesn’t interest me.” Of course, it’s always possible that Gregory is in denial. We even see glimpses of that from his memories of kindergarten. He writes of how having to write his name brought him to tears and reciting a nursery rhyme was torture. In contrast, building and creating made him happy. It’s possible that Gregory does suffer from ADD but doesn’t want to admit it. However, beyond these examples, Gavalda doesn’t really explore that angle. Instead Gregory experiences success only in those moments when he himself wants something. When he wants to get into an alternative school, he takes the time to properly fill out an application. When his grandfather gets sick, he throws himself into schoolwork to make his grandfather proud. To me, those examples show that apparently he is capable but is only going to try when it suits his purpose. In that case, Gregory is right that his problems have nothing to do with concentration.

I picked up 95 Pounds of Hope because it fell under the category of learning disabilities. It was a disappointing read. Not only did I find Gregory whiny and (despite his compassion for grandfather) mostly apathetic, I didn’t learn anything about learning disabilities. Actually, if I were to listen to Gavalda, I might think Attention Deficit Disorder isn’t a real disability.

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

How would you rate this book?

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