A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know this story focuses on a girl and her best friend, a boy who has synesthesia (which means when a certain sense is activated, another is activated at the same time). This is mostly a sweet story about very different friends. Hal and Olivia do play a trick on his mother's live-in boyfriend -- and they worry about what has happened to him, and later what has happened to Hal's mother. But beyond the emotional duress, there is no real fallout from their scheme. Also, in a touching moment, Hal recalls when he, as a small child, found his father dead.
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What's the story?
Olivia and her friend Hal -- a quirky boy who has synesthesia, which makes him say things like Friday is "a light, pretty blue. With frills" -- decide to play a prank on Hal's mother's boyfriend, hoping to break them up. But there are complications -- and they begin to worry about what happened to him. Life becomes more stressful when Hal's mother doesn't return from her outing -- for several days.
Is it any good?
This book manages to be both funny and heartwarming, without ever being cloying. This is mainly due to the sweet friendship between offbeat Olivia and even more eccentric Hal. ("Hal is like a little white mouse with a twitchy nose. You can't help liking him, even if the twitch drives you mad.") Readers may have a hard time believing how worked up Hal and Olivia get over his missing stepfather. It's also sort of surprising that Olivia waits several days before telling her mother that Hal's mother has disappeared, especially since Hal is so distraught over it. Kids may find the answers to both missing-person crises a bit anticlimactic, though the easy answers -- and Hal and Olivia's inability to sort them out -- do say something about their childlike thinking. It might have been worthwhile if Hal's synesthesia had worked more into the plot. As it is, his condition is more of a marker of just how unusual he is.
But, these are just small criticisms. Readers will be touched by how vulnerable Hal and Olivia can be with each other. In one scene, he bursts into tears in front of her because he is so relieved his mother is OK; in another, she tells him she loves him, knowing he wasn't going to worry that she was "proposing to him or anything." In the end, it's impossible not to like Hal and Olivia, and to be moved by their sweet, small story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about synesthesia, which Hal has in the book. This means that when a certain sense is activated, another is activated at the same time. For example, Hal associates days of the week and times of day with colors and tastes. Would you like to have this? If you had it, would you tell people about it or keep it to yourself?
Can you think of other books or movies about characters who think differently? The 2011 National Book Award winner for kids, Mockingbird, features a narrator with autism. What kind of impact do you think these stories have?
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