A Wizard Alone by Diane Duane
|Book Name:||A Wizard Alone|
|Publisher(s):||HMH Books for Young Readers|
|Formatt:||Hardback / paperback / ebook|
|Release Date:||October 1, 2003|
Whatever else may be your opinion of A Wizard Alone, you have to admit that you will likely never read any other book which opens with a boy arguing with a DVD player as the DVD player argues back.
I’ve noticed in checking out the Young Wizards series from the library that they all come from the kids’ section, and I even bought my ten-year-old cousin the first book in the series for Christmas and recommended them for another cousin who’s a few years older. All the same, as I read the books, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually meant for children. Diane Duane does an excellent job at writing about such heavy topics as death and self-sacrifice without oversimplifying the topics or feeling as though she’s talking down to her readers. That, to me, is the mark of an excellent children’s writer: that adults can take something away from their books, whether it’s simply enjoyment or a deeper message to consider. Reading A Wizard’s Dilemma showed me that, for in the middle of the book, I found myself wondering whether there are some times when you ought to give up a war in order to win a battle.
A Wizard Alone is much the same, but the reason it reminded me that this series is definitely written for children is that, sometimes, children need to have the message pressed in a little deeper.
Saying A Wizard Alone is a lighter book than A Wizard’s Dilemma isn’t saying much, and the truth is that it’s only lighter by comparison. Little interludes about Kit’s family and the obstinate DVD player aside, this book deals with some weighty matters. Nita is still grieving her mother’s death and trying to help her father and sister through their grief as well. Each Callahan faces their grief in a different way, and these various griefs clash against each other at times, causing friction that is even more painful to read than normal family friction might be. This book could quite easily be subtitled A Child’s Introduction to Loss, and while I wouldn’t necessarily give this book to a child who had just lost their mother, it would prove a good way to help children understand the process of grieving.
In the meantime, Nita has been having strange dreams, in which it seems someone has been trying to contact her. The first dream features a clown unable to escape from a tricycle on which he rides constantly in a little circle; the second features a giant robot which speaks haltingly and with garbled words.
The book could also be subtitled A Child’s Introduction to Autism, because it introduces a character with autism. Darryl McAllister is a wizard on his Ordeal, though he has been on Ordeal for far longer than most wizards are. For the most part, wizards take hours or days to complete their Ordeals; Darryl has been on his for three months. Tom and Carl ask Kit to look into Darryl’s progress and see whether there is anything he can do to help without solving the Ordeal for him, which would invalidate the Ordeal. Kit uses the strange world-walking abilities Ponch has developed to step into Darryl’s mind to see what has been happening with him. What he sees is that the Lone One has a part of Himself inside Darryl’s mind, tirelessly pursuing the boy. Just when the Lone One seems to be victorious, however, Darryl vanishes.
That is, he seems to vanish. His “body” (or whatever it is one calls the representation of one’s self in one’s mind) remains, but Ponch insists that Darryl has gone. Kit leaves Darryl’s mind more baffled than before.
As it turns out, Darryl isn’t quite the helpless child trapped in an Ordeal that he seems to be. In fact, he isn’t quite what he appears to be at all. In this series, few things are, so it should surprise no one to learn that Nita’s strange dreams are not only not just dreams but are connected to Darryl and his Ordeal.
As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The one complaint I had was with the portrayal of Darryl’s autism. The book was written in 2002, and while it is filled with excellent research, that research is all of the time. Our understanding of autism has expanded greatly since then, and a great deal of the information provided didn’t feel quite right, and I found myself a little unsettled by it. I should note, however, that I read the original version of the book. It has, along with the others in the series, been revised into a New Millennium edition, and the portrayal of autism may be much more up-to-date in the revision. As the book does read like an introduction to autism for children, I would certainly hope so.
Here is the place where I feel I ought to provide what some will recognize as the traditional TV Tropes warning: Your Mileage May Vary. Some among the usual readers of this blog will find the information on autism didactic and unnecessary, which is why I brought up the reminder that these are children’s books. The purpose of this book is to increase empathy and understanding among children, who may well encounter classmates with autism. If the best way to introduce a subject to children is through story and fantasy, then A Wizard Alone does quite a good job of it, even if the original version of the book has somewhat troubling implications.