Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Stuck In Neutral – Terry Trueman


Stuck In Neutral – Terry Trueman


Shawn McDaniel is an enigma and a miracle—except no one knows it, least of all his father. His life is not what it may seem to anyone looking at him. Not even those who love him best have any idea what he is truly like. In this extraordinary and powerful first novel, the reader learns to look beyond the obvious and finds a character whose spirit is rich beyond imagining and whose story is unforgettable.


Review: I didn’t know that this book was so controversial until I Googled it. People actually believe that this novel is proof that the author wants to murder his disabled son. I’m sorry, but that seems idiotic. If authors were as twisted as their characters, Stephen King would have been in prison 30 years ago. Books can’t be written in a vacuum. All authors are inspired by real life. Just because there are similarities between this book and the author’s life doesn’t mean that somebody’s going to get murdered. Be reasonable, people.

Okay. Stuck in Neutral is the story of fourteen-year-old Shawn, a boy with cerebral palsy. Shawn has no control over his body. He can’t move or speak. Since he has no way to communicate, he’s trapped inside his own head. Shawn’s father worries that Shawn’s condition is causing him pain that he’s unable to express. As Shawn’s father becomes more obsessed with his son’s possible pain, Shawn starts to wonder if his father is planning on killing him.

The summary makes this book sound intense—and it is—but it’s also surprisingly hilarious. The novel is written in first-person, so the reader gets to hear all of the thoughts that Shawn is unable to say. He’s very blunt about his situation:

“There is one final bad-news punch line to my life. This bad news is complicated, difficult to explain. In a nutshell, it’s that I am pretty sure that my dad is planning to kill me. The good news is that he’d be doing this out of his love for me. The bad news is that whatever the wonderfulness of his motives, I’ll be dead.” – Stuck in Neutral

Shawn’s life is not completely miserable. He acknowledges that his medical problem has some benefits. For example, he gets to see his sister’s friends change clothes at a sleepover because they don’t think he can understand what’s going on. Additionally, his seizures cause a dreamlike, floating feeling that makes him calm and happy. He’s taught himself to enjoy the little things in life.

“Think about it: Why should we care whether what makes us happy is just an electrical impulse in our brain or something funny that we see some fool do on TV? Does it matter what makes you smile? Wouldn't you rather be happy for no reason than unhappy for good reasons?” - Stuck in Neutral

Shawn’s sense of humor and positive attitude help tone down the intensity of the book. I actually had a lot of fun reading it.

My only big criticism is that this novel is very short. My copy is only about 115 pages. I think it could have benefited from being longer. Shawn doesn’t have an action-packed existence, but I wondered about the other people in his life. Shawn’s mother is his full-time caregiver, but we barely see her. He has a brother and sister who we don’t learn much about.

I also had mixed feelings about Shawn’s acceptance of his father’s (possible) murder plan. Realistically, Shawn has no choice but to accept it. He can’t communicate, and he can’t fight. If his father decides to murder him, he’s going to die, but I think that Shawn’s suspicion of the murder plot should have caused more angst.

Stuck in Neutral was first published in 2001 and was a major influence in the teen “problem novel” genre. It won awards and got a lot of people talking. It’s a brave and thought-provoking book. It confronts taboo subjects that make some readers uncomfortable, such as euthanasia and the rights of severely disabled children and their parents. Even though these topics are unpleasant to discuss, they’re important.

This book made me think about how able-bodied people project their feelings onto the severely disabled. I don’t know any severely disabled people in real life, so I’ve never thought about this before. Shawn’s father sees Shawn’s seizures and assumes that they’re painful. He assumes that Shawn’s cerebral palsy prevents him from enjoying life. In reality, Shawn isn’t bothered by his seizures, and he has developed a unique way of connecting to the world. This book shows that you can’t make assumptions about a person. Just because someone is disabled doesn’t mean that he/she is suffering.

This is a quick and powerful read with an exceptional protagonist. I need to find more books like this one.






14 comments:

  1. Wow. How stupid of people to accuse the author of being a psycho based on characters in his book. :/ I could definitely think of A LOT of authors who, like Stephen King, would need to be locked up in a padded room somewhere if that was the case. This really isn't my kind of read, but it definitely does sound interesting and I can honestly say I've never read anything like it. I feel like I might be willing to pick it up eventually since it is so short. Great review!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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    1. I was surprised that so many people seemed suspicious of the author. It’s a messed up story, but a lot of authors write messed up stories.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. Just making sure you know, Cruise Control is a companion novel to Stuck in Neutral. Told from the brother's perspective. Great review!

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    1. Thanks! I do know about Cruise Control. I might get around to reading it someday. :)

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. This sounds like a very intriguing read. The real-life controversy behind it interests me, as I like reading books that upset people, as I (hope) it helps me grow. I will have to see if my library has this. Great review!

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    1. Thanks! If you read it, I hope you like it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  4. Wow this sounds really interesting. Plus it being short is incentive enough. But it does seem REALLY short that I could see it leaving you wanting more. The stuff about the author seems silly. i mean really?? Great review!

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    1. It is really short. I think I read it in one sitting.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. This one sounds great! It is such a unique story and I love the fact that Shawn is such a great character. I will have to look for this one. Great review!

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  6. All I can say is Wow. I need to read this.

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  7. Great review AJ I don't think this book is for me but I am really intrigued and curious about the concept about this book after reading your review. But it does looks and sounds very intriguing and interesting. Thank you for your awesome post AJ.

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