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By Cammie McGovern
Penguin Books, 2007 ($14.00 )
ISBN 10: 0143038907
ISBN 13: 978-0-14-303890-0
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
Two children wander into the woods behind their school one afternoon. Hours later, the body of little Amelia is found, with Adam hiding nearby. He is the only witness to her murder, but nine-year-old Adam is autistic, unable to understand what happened or to utter a word about what he saw.
Cara, Adam's single mother, had known soon after his birth that he was different, but even after the doctors urged her to get him tested she waited until he was three and a half to seek out a diagnosis, dreading the outcome. She then became obsessed with trying to make him better, pursuing every new therapy or regime, rejoicing in each small step forward. She finally reached a state of acceptance, and stopped trying to force him into doing things he didn't want to or couldn't do. He is the center of her world, and she knows everything about him. Or at least she thought she did, until she found out that Adam, who had never had a friend, was seen on several occasions with Amelia, even singing with her. Adam, who was known for his compliance with the rules, had followed Amelia to a place he knew he shouldn't go, and when he came back, he had retreated to a non-verbal, almost catatonic state.
Detective Matt Lincoln is the only official who "gets" Adam, because, as he tells Cara, he has an autistic nephew. He has faith that Adam will be able to help them identify the killer, even when Cara begins to doubt it. Little by little, Adam returns to himself, helped, to Cara's surprise, by thirteen-year-old Morgan, a middle school boy with some problems of his own - he belongs to the "people who have no friends" counseling group, and is hiding a terrible secret he hopes to atone for by solving Amelia's murder.
Intertwined in the story are flashbacks to Cara's childhood and her relationships with Suzette, her best friend since the second grade, and Kevin, who entered their world in the fifth grade, after he was seriously hurt in a bike accident. Cara, hoping to get some of the recognition her more outgoing friend enjoyed, offered to help him during the school year, but when things got uncomfortable for her, she dumped him. This was her first experience with how people who are "different" are treated by the world. Through the years their three lives would intersect in varying ways, and things that happened in the past have an impact on what's happening in the present day.
EYE CONTACT offers a window into the world of autistic children and the people who care for and love them. The book also explores the often frightening world of children who are bullied, ridiculed, neglected, and misunderstood, with empathy and hope.
Ms. McGovern is the mother of an autistic child. The idea for EYE CONTACT came to her when her son first began talking, causing her to wonder what might happen if a child like hers had an important secret, and the whole community was trying to piece together vital information from the seemingly random words he uttered. Film rights have been bought by Julia Roberts. This is Ms. McGovern's second novel. Her first, THE ART OF SEEING, was published in 2002.
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