________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 10 . . . .January 20, 2006


Wild Orchid.

Beverley Brenna.
Calgary, AB: Red Deer Press, 2005.
156 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 0-88995-330-9.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**** /4



The one thing about church I do like is the quiet and how itís okay to be quiet. It is much easier to breathe when it is quiet. The church I go to has a cathedral ceiling and stained glass windows along one side. I generally face the side without the windows, sitting forward, but turning my head to avoid the sunlight. It smells nice in church too, a quiet, soft, powdery smell that may come from the people, but which could also be part of the building itself.

Today, I went to the nature center at ten for the Bog Trail walk, and when we started along the path into the woods, it felt to me like I was in church. Forests and churches are similar, except that in the forest you canít sit still because mosquitoes want to bite you. I used spray on any parts of my skin that were showing, and I think the other people did, too. Mosquitoes donít usually like me very much. This might be because I donít eat bananas. I read that mosquitoes are attracted to people who have eaten bananas. I donít eat bananas because they are yellow, and they make my mouth itch, as if it would want to sneeze if it were my nose.

There are seven ways that forests and churches are alike:

1. They both have quiet sounds in them that do not demand much of you.
2. They have a lot of air in them, but it doesnít enter as wind.
3. People talk in softer voices inside forests as well as churches.
4. You feel as though youíre in the shade.
5. Both the walls and the trees stretch up high on either side of you.
6. There is a minty smell.
7. Both forest and church have six letters.


Taylor Jane Simon is 18-years-old. She has just graduated from high school, and it is time to look to the future. But for Taylor that is a scary prospect. Even the idea of spending the summer in Prince Albert National Park with her mother and her motherís new boyfriend is more than Taylor wants to think about. That is because Taylor suffers from Asperger Syndrome, a neurobiological disorder named for the Viennese physician, Hans Asperger.

     Though people with this condition generally have average or above average intelligence, they encounter difficulties because their brains are unable to process information in the usual way. This stumbling block manifests itself in autistic-like behaviour. Those with Asperger Syndrome avoid eye contact and physical touch. They have poorly developed social skills. They have difficulty with language idioms and can become fixated on particular words or numbers. They are sensitive to light, colour and the texture of food. They can be obsessive as well as compulsive. They are comforted by routine and terrified by the unknown.

     Spending the summer in a new environment promises many unknowns Ė at least 20, as Taylor points out to her mother Ė but when her mother refuses to change her plans, Taylor has no choice but to succumb, and to her credit, she does her best to adjust. She even sets goals for herself. She wants to make a friend or two and she wants to acquire a boyfriend. Those are fairly lofty aspirations for someone in Taylorís position, but when daily visits to the nature centre in the park become her new routine, Taylor is well on her way. She does indeed make friends, several of them, in fact. In addition, she lands herself a summer job and Ė depending on oneís perspective Ė acquires not only one admirer, but two.

     Having taught a teen-aged autistic boy for two years, I was somewhat reluctant to read this novel, particularly since it is told in first person by Taylor herself. Through entries in a blog on her laptop computer, Taylor attempts to make sense of her world and the one she must live in. I was dubious. How could a person with Asperger Syndrom relate a story that made sense while at the same time displaying autistic characteristics? I neednít have been concerned. Brenna has done a magnificent job. Until I read this novel I knew autism as an outsider looking in. Wild Orchid has allowed me to see it from the inside out.

     This is an honest, insightful, and compelling read.

Highly Recommended

Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes for children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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