Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stuck in Neutral

"I try not to spend too much time worrying about how 'hard' my life is. Of course, it's kind of difficult not to think about it at least part of the time. What else is there for me to do? For the most part, though, I just live and try not to bitch to myself too much about the bad-news stuff of my life. Bitching doesn't change anything."

Title: Stuck in Neutral

Author: Terry Trueman

ISBN: 0-06-028519-2

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books

Copyright: 2000

Plot Summary: Stuck in Neutral is the story of Shawn McDaniel, a teen with the special ability to remember everything that he hears, ever since he was a kid. The downside is that he also has severe cerebral palsy and cannot control any of his muscles or bodily functions. Shawn absorbs information like a sponge and describes his intelligence as of genius quality, but due to his inability to speak, nod, or even blink as a sign of his existence, nobody, not even his family, knows he's alive within his unresponsive body. To the world, Shawn is dead. He survives off the oatmeal his mother spoons into his mouth until he swallows, reflexively. His brother and sister treat him kindly but Shawn knows he is a burden. His only respite is his seizures, in which his spirit can fly free, moving through the world in a way that Shawn never could. His father, who left them when he was a child, however, believes that Shawn is in pain, in agony, trapped in a body that he cannot control and with no way to escape the pain. Slowly, but surely, Shawn realizes that his father intends on killing him.

Critical Evaluation: Stuck in Neutral is a dramatic and painful description of how it could be to be trapped within your own body for your entire life, with only what you hear to tide you over. Shawn is an amazingly humorous and strong-willed narrator despite his situation and he pulls the reader along in his journey, whether it is following his own mental ramblings regarding his genius-level intelligence, his seizure-trips, or his feelings of powerlessness when a group of teens harass him. Similarly, the characterization of Shawn's family is realistic and gripping in their relationship to him and the world that views him. The stanzas of poetry that are included in the beginning of each chapter are beautifully crafted and provide a heading and theme for each chapter, as well as providing a complete poem if read by itself. The use of foreshadowing is done from the very start of the dust-jacket, which states "My name is Shawn McDaniel. I'm 14 years old. I think my father is planning to kill me." The beginning of the story contrasts this greatly, with him describing his amazing memory and intelligence, making the reader wonder why his father would want to kill such a gifted boy.

Reader's Annotation: Shawn McDaniel is a fourteen year old teen with amazing aural memory and an extreme case of cerebral palsy that prevents him from communicating with the outside world. While the rest of his family cares for him on a daily basis, Shawn believes his estranged father is planning on killing him.

Information About the Author: Terry Trueman grew up in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. He has degrees in applied Psychology and Creative Writing.
Stuck in Neutral is directly inspired by Trueman's son Sheehan who is also inflicted with cerebral palsy. Read more about Trueman and his life at his website.

Genre: Physical Disabilities; Euthanasia

Curriculum Ties N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
  • Stuck in Neutral is a fictional account based in the author's reality. Shawn McDaniel is a fourteen-year-old teenage boy who has severe cerebral palsy and is trapped in a body he cannot control. His only escape is during his seizures, in which his spirit flies free and he can touch those he loves. His father, however, believes Shawn is in daily agony instead of enraptured freedom during his seizures, and begins discussing the possibility of euthanasia.
Reading Level: 15+

Challenge Issues:
  • Stuck in Neutral discusses the arguments for and against the use of euthanasia. The possibility that those who are seen as brain dead are actually trapped in their bodies, as is Shawn, is an important factor in the debate.
Why This Book?: Michael Printz Honor Award Winner

Reference Page:
Trueman, T. (2000). Stuck in neutral. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books.

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