29 June 2009

18. A Corner of the Universe

A Corner of the Universe by Ann Martin is a Young Adult novel dealing with the difficult subject of mental illness. Told from the perspective of 13 year old Hattie who is also the narrator, we learn of a most unusual summer in the small town of Millerton. While Hattie is expecting a normal summer vacation - which means a quiet summer working at her parent's boarding house and reading, instead she learns that she has an uncle named Adam who she did not even know existed. She is puzzled by Adam's strange and sometimes outrageous behavior. She learns that Adam has a mental disorder, but Hattie loves his outgoing and loving nature. Still there are times that he becomes angry and menacing. As the story progresses, the reader comes to love them both. Then tragedy strikes and Hattie feels responsible, even while she does not understand exactly what has happened.

I enjoyed reading this book, although my one complaint is that the Adam's mental illness was never adequately defined. Since the novel takes place in 1960, the reader is exposed to the biases and culture of the time regarding mental illness. Adam had been sent to a school and was not discussed by the family until the school closed. In other words, Adam was a shameful secret. This work might be useful in a discussion of how things have changed.

In the afterword, the author shares that the book is loosely based on her own experiences with an uncle who had mental disabilities.

TITLE: A Corner of the Universe
AUTHOR: Ann Martin.
PAGES: 189
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: Because I haven't read any other YA books dealing with mental illness, I think this one is pretty good. Anyone have any suggestions?

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