This is my book review of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (all lower-case letters). My book reviews are not book reports, like many book reviews turn into.
Instead, my review of this award-winning and thought-provoking book focuses on the writing style, the content, and the overall message.
I watched The Great American Read
Even though The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time book was first published in 2003, I had only recently read the book in 2019. What took me so long?
Well, before it was on the top-100 list of The Great American Read, a PBS program that “explored and celebrated the power of reading…”, I had never heard of it.
The book was banned and challenged
I became especially intrigued when I heard this book had been banned by many community organizations. For instance, the book had been challenged with a request for removal from the Galveston, Texas, County Reads Day in 2006. Petitioners feared the book could “pollute” the minds of their young readers.
In 2016, the book was removed from a Florida public school’s summer reading assignment list. Another Florida school removed it from its required reading list and reclassified it as an optional assignment. Parents were concerned about the book’s profane, “foul” language, mature subject matter, and the main character’s atheism.
Adult language added authenticity
I have to admit that there are certain profanities that we commonly see used by today’s politicians. When they’re reported in the newspaper, they are indicated by the ‘expletive deleted’ message.
However, those words didn’t bother me. Instead, the authentic language made the story more relevant and believable.
I love books that were banned
Based on my good experiences with other banned books, I eagerly bought my copy of this book in 2019. Since reading it, I have it proudly on display on my bookshelf, along with other banned books like The Catcher in the Rye, In Cold Blood, and The Life of Pi.
However, just getting banned is not enough of an appeal for me. A banned book also has to be thought-provoking. It also has to cause me and other readers to consider other points of view that may be valid, but also less popular in our society.
Good things about The Curious Incident…
Here are a few of the very good things I enjoyed as I read this book:
1. Socially awkward main character
The main character, who was a 15-year-old teen named Christopher, was socially inept. He was enrolled in a school for special students because he was not a typical student. In fact, he had a long list of behavioral problems that lead the reader to believe he might have autism or Asperger syndrome.
Some of his behavioral problems included an aversion to being touched, especially by strangers. He also had a tendency to say rude things to people, although he didn’t realize he was being rude. In fact, he thought he was being honest and nice by saying things that polite society considers rude.
In addition, the awkward teen was content not to talk to other people for a long time. He also hated being in crowds of people, especially when they’re all jammed into small spaces together.
I have many of those same ‘behavioral problems’ and maybe that’s why I identified so much with the main character. Because of my own social ineptitude, I’ve experienced many of the conflicts that the main character had encountered.
I enjoyed this eye-opening book about a boy who didn’t quite fit in, but still enjoyed a full life.
If you’re interested in learning more about the main character’s behavioral problems, here are two good sources:
Mayo Clinic, Autism spectrum disorder
Asperger syndrome symptoms
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Asperger syndrome information page
Despite having many of the symptoms of autism and Asperger syndrome, the author never definitively claimed that Christopher was autistic. Instead, the author wanted Christopher to be different, and not fit in so well with conventional society.
I believe that many people, even those without autism, feel out-of-place and unsure of themselves in social situations. That’s certainly true for me, and that’s why we all might identify with Christopher’s life.
2. The main character loved animals
The main character related better to animals than he did to people. I’m the same way. Throughout my life, I’ve never had deep, long-lasting relationships with people, just like the main character.
Yet, with my pet dogs I had developed almost a sixth sense of communication skills. All my dogs have been fiercely loyal, and could sense when I was happy or when I was sad.
In fact, one dog was able to sense when my blood sugar was too low. As a type 1, insulin-dependent diabetic I constantly guard against dangerous low blood sugars.
Despite the danger to type 1 diabetics, low blood sugars are bound to happen, especially while we’re asleep and unable to recognize the symptoms. Many times while I was sleeping, my dog would jump on my chest with his front paws to wake me up when my blood sugar got too low.
Because of his sixth sense, my dog had saved my life by waking me up from my low blood sugars. I think that Christopher had a similar, deep connection with the animals he encountered in his life.
Christopher’s connection with animals explains why he wanted to solve the mystery of “the dog in the night-time…” I won’t give away what happened, but much of the story depends on Christopher’s intense compassion for animals.
3. Interesting obsessions that spur further research
One of the aspects of this book that I especially enjoyed was the way the author included many of Christopher’s obsessions. For instance, he loved math, astronomy, and science, and was especially good at those subjects.
To demonstrate the boy’s obsession with numbers, the author included a statistical problem, along with a few challenges in trigonometry and algebra. I loved following Christopher’s reasoning, and could understand his excitement.
I believe that same excitement over math and science will be picked up by your own child as they read the book. The problems, and Christopher’s logical solutions, will spur further research. As far as I’m concerned, further research is always a good thing, and is especially beneficial for a young reader.
4. Controversial philosophies about religion
One of the things that community leaders in conservative school districts were especially concerned about was Christopher’s well-reasoned atheism. Those community leaders didn’t want young minds to be “warped” with logic, so naturally, they classified the book as an optional assignment.
When I was growing up, I faced the same narrow-minded opposition to my own innocent questions about god and religion. In fact, my innocent childhood questions got me shunned by the church and my relatives.
— The church forces you to conform
In fact, there were some nice old church ladies who were very nasty to me because of my non-conforming questions. They were almost as nasty as I picture the mafia might be to someone who had muscled in on their territory.
— It’s okay to be a nonconformist
I think this book does a valuable service for today’s parents — it provides a platform for logical discussions about controversial issues all children will encounter.
Above all, this book shows that a person does not have to conform to popular beliefs in society. They can be nonconformists with a clean conscience.
A helpful book about autism.
Not-so-good things about The Curious Incident…
1. I didn’t agree with the rave reviews
I really enjoyed this book and thought it was clever. While it was easy to read, the content remained challenging, thought-provoking, and made me want to do more research.
However, after I had heard and read all the rave reviews, I was a little disappointed. Even though the book was very good, it wasn’t as great as the reviewers made it sound.
One reviewer wrote:
“Disorienting and reorienting the reader to devastating effect…as suspenseful and harrowing as anything in Conan Doyle.”
— The New York Times Book Review
Well, there were some plot twists, but it was not “disorienting and reorienting” to this reader. However, I do admit that the plot twists were clever and unexpected. In the end, though, they weren’t that big of a deal to me.
Then this enraptured reviewer wrote:
“Superb…bits of wisdom fairly leap off the page.”
I do admit that I was challenged by Christopher’s logic, wit, and wisdom, but I wasn’t overwhelmed. It just wasn’t as a big a deal as the reviewers made it out to be.
Definitely do read this book
I really enjoyed reading this book. If you have children who don’t feel like they fit in at school, they might especially enjoy learning about Christopher.
Even if your children have an easy time in social situations, their eyes might be opened a little to the plight of people who are different than them, and learn to be more accepting. That’s the big message of this book, I believe. We all need to be accepting and help nurture all people (no exceptions) in this great, diverse world.
That’s why I recommend that you do read the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, and buy a copy for your children. Afterwards, have an open family discussion-time.
By Doug Martin, Opportunity Muse.
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by Doug Martin and Opportunity Muse.
All rights reserved.
by Doug Martin and Opportunity Muse.
All rights reserved.