Attitude: Some Care Needed → Fairly Positive
In Brief: Family strain caused by an autistic child. Hidden strengths behind apparently disadvantaged boy. Ecological slant to humans' treatment of the planet.
Published in: 1990
Age Range: Pre Teens
- Adam is a boy suffering from autism who discovers he can communicate with animals and indeed has a particular role to play in helping them.
- Oscar is Adam's cat, the first animal with whom he communicates.
- Derek, Adam's father, is a scientist, working in the local laboratories and using animals for experimentation, including Oscar's kittens.
Adam, unable to communicate with other humans on account of his autism, finds that he can talk to animals telepathically, and this helps him become more confident as he tries to find out why he should have been chosen to receive this particular gift. He befriends the local zookeeper and asks the animals there to tell him their stories in the hope that this will help him discover his own.
Literary: Since most of the narrative is seen through the eyes of a young boy, the style and vocabulary are undemanding. I found the characterisation fairly flat even among the principal two or three characters and certainly outside them. Adam says and thinks quite a bit, but you rather have the feeling that he's reproducing the author's speech bubbles.
Family: Adam is his parents' only child, and the early part of the book shows how much strain it puts on a family to have a child suffering from autism. Understandably his mother, who spends the most time with him, has the most patience with him, but his father is frustrated at Adam's apparent stupidity. The distance between them is compounded by the fact that Derek works at the local laboratory where they experiment on animals.
Ecology: The book is in effect a warning bell for those who take too little care of the natural world, and in particular of the animals. Adam, through his discussions with the various animals he meets, is told how much they suffer and for how much humans are responsible. Finally he talks to the dolphins, who tell him that he was chosen (by them) to be a modern-day Noah, keeping animals safe from Mankind. Clearly, the idea of Mammalogue (a language which all mammals speak and which humans initially know but soon forget) is a convenient plot device to let the author speak through the animals Adam meets, but I find myself rather tired of the line that animals necessarily know better than humans just because... well, just because. Clearly, humans don't get everything right, but why should animals be any more perfect in this regard?
Despite all the photographs, films and videos Adam had seen before, faced with the gigantic grey beasts standing in front of him, ears flapping, trunks swinging, feet trampling the ground and raising clouds of dust, Adam couldn't help gasping at their sheer enormity. He stood there staring at them: unable to think.
Unable to use Mammalogue.
In the end it was one of the elephants who communicated first.
“So you finally decided to visit us,” the largest male thought to Adam.
The sound in his head was deeper than anything the boy had heard before. It was a bit like talking in an empty room — echoing and solemn.
“I was coming,” Adam thought back. “I...”
“Well, you certainly took your time about meeting the most impressive mammal that ever walked the earth,” the elephant snorted.
“And the most modest?”
“Modesty be blowed. Just look at me,” it thought, and with its ears fully extended it tilted back its head, raised its trunk and trumpeted so loudly that the noise bounced all round the zoo. For a moment, every other squeak, chatter, grunt, growl and roar ceased.
“Hear the respect I command,” the elephant thought proudly.
Sunday 18th January 2004