Review after reading Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin.
Rain Reign is a work of contemporary middle-grade fiction written by American author Ann M. Martin and published in 2014. The novel was selected for the 2014 New York Times Notable Children's Books list.
The story's protagonist, Rose Howard, is an 11-year-old girl with high-functioning autism. She lives with her father, Wesley, in Hartford, a small town in upstate New York. Because this book is written from the first-person perspective of a girl with autism, there are many descriptions that make you feel as if you are observing the inner self of a neurodiverse child through this girl. for example,
"My first name has a homonym, and I gave my dog a homonym name too. Her name is Rain, which is special because it has two homonyms-rein and reign. Something important about the word write is that it has three homonyms - right, rite, and wright. That’s the only group of four homonyms I’ve thought of. If I ever think of another four homonym group, it will be a red-letter day. I live with my father, Wesley Howard, and neither of his names has a homonym." (excerpt by a book)
Unlike most ordinary children, Rose is very unique from the moment she introduces herself. She loves rules, routines and, most of all, homonyms. So her description is full of the fun of these linguistic details.
Of course, from a layperson's perspective, she feels like she can't communicate with others emotionally and she's a child who only talks for herself. However, Rose has these problems, but through her detailed description, we can see that although she does not appear to be communicating in society, she is trying to communicate with the world with her own rules and efforts.
For example, I was impressed by the scene where she plays with her friends at school lunch time with homonyms. Her special aid teacher advised Rose to no longer use homonyms, but she continued to use these words and communicate in her own way. The children, trying to tease her, make fun of this, but Rose feels happy in it. Because of her emotions and language usage that are at odds with society, she is bullied and ostracized. She is in a constant state of isolation. Because of her condition, her school wants to provide intensive care for her, but they cannot find the right way for her.
Her father, Wesley, who is responsible for her care, often ignores her home correspondence from her school and refuses to even go to parents teacher meetings. He works intermittently at a local garage and spends most of his free time at a local bar. He is impatient and ignores Rose's needs. Rose's uncle Weldon lives in Hartford and is kind, caring, and involved in Rose's life. When you look at her surroundings, it seems even more frustrating than her disability. Her only way out seems to be her uncle. Her father brings a stray dog to Rose. Rose names this dog Rain Reign, a homonym for her favorite dog. This is the moment when the curious curiosity I felt when I first saw the title of the book was satisfied. From that moment on, Rose and Lane become inseparable from each other.
In fact, in the case of high-functioning autism, it is difficult to empathize and communicate with each other. If this part is desired, it will not be classified as a disability. So I was curious how the friendship between these two would be portrayed. When Rose describes Rain, she does not focus on emotion. It's all about objective descriptions of weight, size, color, and behavior. And she keeps track of homonyms whenever she can. In order for this description to continue and to know Rose's feelings or her mind, one must rely on the other person's attitude or words in response to Rose's conversation. I felt that the friendship between the two was narrated in the parts that depicted Rain approaching Rose and touching her body and looking at her lovingly. But Rose isn't completely emotionless.
Hartford is in the path of an approaching hurricane expected to head inland, and Rose and Wesley rush to prepare for storm damage. On a stormy night, Wesley lets Rain out and the dog doesn't return. At times like this, I am concerned that Wesley, an adult, may be suffering from a more precarious state of mind than high-functioning autism.
Rose wakes up the next morning to find that her rain has disappeared and she is not wearing her necklace. Heartbroken by the news of her Rain's disappearance, Rose hopes that Rain will be found and taken in. She calls the animal shelter. Eventually, Rain is taken to a shelter, and Rose is happily reunited with her pet. However, shelter managers report that Rain has been microchipped and shelter staff are attempting to contact her family, whose information has been recorded.
Rose worries that the rain belongs to the people who want to find her. I think that through the series of disappearances from the rain and finding this puppy, Rose observes different communities grappling with the aftermath of the hurricane, and learns about her resilience, loss, and community along the way. And I think she discovered through that process how she could live with her community within her own limitations. Through this, she develops friendships with her friends, receives help from her community, and begins to gain a better understanding of herself.
There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. In other words, raising a child is not just about the role of parents, but it also means that we all need the responsibility and role of the community.
Looking at this, I feel that we need to think of solutions that can provide good social care for neurodiverse children, such as those with high-functioning autism. I want to understand their unusual tendencies and abilities as a phenomenon that is no longer ‘strange’ but ‘fun’, just as Rose describes herself in a fun way, and we want to get closer together.
"Homonyms can be surprising and fun, and that’s why I started a list of them. In this chapter I’m going to tell you about my rules for homonyms. But since I’ve realized that most kids aren’t any more interested in rules than they are in homonyms, I’ll tell you something fun about homonyms first. (excerpt from main text)"
And I hope that we will be given many opportunities through various media, books, culture, education, etc. to look inward and understand properly. Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. In other words, I think it is important to find solutions together in the right way and create constructive awareness.
This is the reason that there is a risk that the subject of autism may raise sensitive issues when handled by people who have not experienced such cases directly. The concept of autism is also part of a spectrum and there are various cases, but there are concerns that it may be used as a strategy through provocative material such as novels or dramas. For example, the Korean drama ‘Weird Lawyer Woo Young-Woo’ (hereinafter referred to as Woo Young-Woo), which features an autistic protagonist, became popular around the world on the Netflix platform. The critic pointed out that it is unfortunate that the way autism is expressed in Woo Young-woo's drama has been modified to suit viewers' tastes rather than reflecting reality. Although the main character Woo Young-woo has difficulties with social communication, she has excellent learning ability and continues to practice as a lawyer, which is his profession. This is because the content of achieving success was emphasized.
In this regard, if a school uses ‘Rain Reign’ as a subject for a book targeting neurodiverse students, it must be approached cautiously. There is a risk that careless judgments and approaches may create an even more narrow-minded and distorted image. In fact, I think that excessive homonyms like Rose should not create the prejudice that someone lives in another world. When introducing this book in schools, I think it is important to first teach the concept of Neurodiversity before approaching it. In other words, it should be used as a lens to look into the mind of a girl with such problems as one case among a diverse spectrum.
I also thought about how to use it as a lens while answering the discussion questions at the back of this book.
Below is one of those questions.
- Why is Rose's uncle Weldon more patient with her than her father?
- Rose has a special interest in things like homonyms. What role do her special interests play in her life, and how do they help her live her daily life? What are your interests or hobbies?
I think the answer to this question is our attitude toward getting closer to the neurodiverse student. After reading this book, I learned that I should treat neurodiverse students with the same attitude as Rose's Uncle Weldon. As for her uncle, he treats Rose personally, as one of her most ordinary children.
It's weird to use homonyms like "don't do that" like Rose's teachers did. Instead of saying, “Stop it,” her uncle says, “Good." That's ingenious. I understood and sympathized with Rose from her perspective by saying, ‘You can think like that.’ I think this attitude is important for a neurodiverse student.
Additionally, Rose finds her homonyms and she tries to overcome her disability of being unable to connect socially with the world through her own amusement. Her homonym is her best friend and her only breathing room in a world that cannot understand, rejects and neglects her. If you know her situation, the excessive use of homonyms can be accepted as ‘precious’ rather than ‘strange’. In other words, I think that the attitude of trying to understand others' perspectives and minds is the attitude of an educator. In this sense, I think this book has been a good guide to help me understand and approach neurodiverse students.
Myungja Anna Koh