The second chapter, "3", opens thus:
My name is Christopher John Francis Boone. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number up to 7,057.
It's nice to know the protagonist's name, but I believe it's considered bad writing to jam it in randomly like this rather than inserting it into the dialogue or whatever. Also, he sounds a little full of himself here. Not only does he have a long-winded name, but he's shoving his alleged knowledge in the reader's face for no apparent reason. Maybe it's because he's young and doesn't know how he comes off. I used to be a bit arrogant, but I'd mostly gotten over it by the time I was fifteen.
It's also considered bad writing to jam in characterization without connecting it to the plot. I don't know yet if this stuff relates to the plot in any way, but I'd bet it doesn't.
Furthermore, the impression I'm getting coincides with another stereotype. ASD people are often considered arrogant due to their pursuit of their own interests at the expense of difficult socialization, as well as their lesser ability to grasp the details of "politeness". Christopher is probably supposed to just be stating facts that are important to him, but he sounds boastful. This would be remedied by implementing "show, don't tell" to, as above, work the characterization into the plot instead of dropping it suddenly like an anvil.
Eight years ago, when I first met Siobhan, she showed me this picture
[picture of sad smily face]
and I knew that it meant "sad," which is what I felt when I found the dead dog.
Why would a seven-year-old need to be taught what that picture means? Doesn't everybody understand basic stuff like that? I know I did. Cartoon faces are easy to understand because they're exaggerated, and I've understood them since as long as I can remember. Real faces are subtler, which is what poses the challenge.
Maybe Haddon used to show smily faces to kids. Who knows.
Also, this is the first time Christopher has told us anything about his emotions. TV Tropes has a term for how he's doing it now: "That Makes Me Feel Angry". Telling emotions rather than showing them is not considered good writing unless it's done for a sensible purpose, and this... isn't. Since the "emotionless" business isn't a universal trait, if it's a trait at all, and it's inadvisable under normal circumstances, it probably shouldn't have been done. On the other hand, it could be due to male socialization ("boys don't cry" and other similar pieces of advice). Nonetheless, I don't think even that has to mean that all emotions must take the form of "I feel X and you'd better take my word for it".
Then she showed me this picture
[picture of happy face]
and I knew that it meant "happy," like when I'm reading about the Apollo space missions, or when I am still awake at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in the morning and I can walk up and down the street and pretend that I am the only person in the whole world.
4 am in the morning? Seriously?
There's something vaguely childish about this whole smily-face passage. Something about the flat declarations of what things make him feel how. Like he's trying to explain what "happy" and "sad" mean, either to the reader or to himself. He could be trying to copy his thought process as a seven-year-old, but it reads like he's not, since he references recent events. Also, I'll bet the Apollo space missions have nothing to do with the plot.
This book is supposedly character-driven rather than plot-driven, which could provide an excuse for the random disconnected bits of trivia. They still feel pointless, though. I'm quite sure these details are being stuffed in to fulfill the stereotype of being really smart and knowing an incredible amount of obscure stuff (savantism, if a mild version). What kind of person knows "every prime number up to 7,057"? Really? Prime numbers are cool, but not that cool. Maybe that's just me, though; I'm more the weird-number-bases type. I am all too familiar with unshakable obsessions that result in acquiring large amounts of information that nobody else cares about, so perhaps it is plausible. Nonetheless, he seems as if he is putting himself on display. It doesn't flow somehow.
I'm going to use a photograph of Siobhan's next four pictures because I don't feel like writing transcripts:
I was unable to say what these meant.
Yeah, I don't know what to make of them either. The far left one seems to be winking and smirking, but I don't know what that would signify. The near left might be arrogant. The near right... I have no idea. I've heard of that being used to test how right-handed and left-handed people interpret images, but as far as what it means, I'm totally in the dark. The far right is shock or surprise. I can say that much for sure.
I'm going to guess that "the reader" is supposed to automatically understand the expressions and thereby realize how different Christopher is. Well, I'm not that reader.
I got Siobhan to draw lots of these faces and then write down next to them exactly what they meant. I kept the piece of paper in my pocket and took it out when I didn't understand what someone was saying. But it was very difficult to decide which of the diagrams was most like the face they were making because people's faces move very quickly.
Really? That's why it's hard to match up the smily faces with actual expressions? Not because, you know, actual faces look almost nothing like cartoon ones and their expressions are much subtler?
When I told Siobhan that I was doing this, she got out a pencil and another piece of paper and said it probably made people feel very
[face with wiggly line for mouth]
and then she laughed. So I tore the original piece of paper up and threw it away. And Siobhan apologized. And now if I don't know what someone is saying, I ask them what they mean or I walk away.
I don't know exactly what the wiggly line face is supposed to mean. Unsettled or puzzled, I guess. I don't know why he felt the need to tear up the paper as well as throwing it away. I also don't get what's supposed to be going on in this last bit. Siobhan gave him a somewhat cryptic message about what he was doing, and he interpreted it to mean that he needed to destroy the paper, but then she apologized for... something? Whatever.
He doesn't mean know what someone is saying. He means understand. I could "know" that someone was saying "colorless green ideas sleep furiously", but I wouldn't understand the intended meaning. Details like this are important, Christopher. Especially to people like us. You should know this...
< Chapter 1 | Chapter 3 >