Rain Reign: A Charming Dose of Vitamin H(umanity) for the Cognitive Disability Genre

rain reign cover

As visibility of mental illness increases worldwide, the subject is becoming more central in children’s media as well. Following this forging tradition set up in books like Rules by Cynthia Lord, Rain Reign follows the experiences of a young girl with Asperger’s as she manages massive shifts in her life as a result of hurricane Susan.  Anne M. Martin had a difficult task in writing this book, as she clearly endeavored to balance a tradition of “odd duck” protagonists, the legitimacy of Asperger’s, and to differentiate her story from the swathe of similarity among disability-based children’s novels.  Martin achieves each of these with only minor flaws for the critical reader. Regardless of who the reader might be, this book takes us through immersive and crushing tale that teaches practical lessons about the challenges that many children face in their lives. 

Raised by a single father, the protagonist Rose lives with a high-functioning autism disorder called Asperger’s.  She struggles with the concentration, noise sensitivity, and obsessive tendencies that are hallmark of the disorder.  On top of this, Rose’s father is an aggressive drunk who battles between nursing his pride and caring for his daughter.  Rose copes with the stresses of her daily life by seeking out homonyms, prime numbers, and caring for her beloved dog Rain.  Rose’s father simply brought Rain home one day as a gift for his daughter, telling her that she was a lost dog and that her last owners must not have cared enough for her.  Rose adores Rain, and tends to her every need, want, and whim while managing her own internal battles. Rose’s life is ruled by homonyms, Rain, rules, and routine.

However, the world of Rose and Rain is disrupted when hurricane Susan hits her small town.  The town is devastated by the destruction, and Rose is crushed to find Rain missing after the storm.  After weeks of searching local shelters with her uncle, Rose finally locates Rain but the complications that arise after being reunited threaten to defeat Rose and her family.

Overall, Rose’s daily struggles are written with tact by the author.  The story is written as though by Rose’s hand, adding an element of closeness to the protagonist.  This tool used by the author is ingenious in the way that it also brings the reader into Rose’s mind, and allows for an immense amount of empathy for her. The way that Rose writes her homonyms often adds a poetic sensibility to the book that can be fun to unravel as she once describes how, “Rain puts one (won) of her front feet (feat) in (inn) my lap” (11).  Rose is hard not to fall in love with, and her relationship with Rain is one that will turn a hardened heart into jelly.  This empathy is crucial to the apparent goal of bringing understanding to children on the Autism spectrum, and to the book as a whole.  Carefully done, the childlike prose is immersive, intriguing, and witty.

One element of the book that was mildly irksome was in the occasional “symptom dropping.”   Though the task of conveying Asperger’s in a complete way was a challenging one for Martin to undertake, some of the methods used to convey Rose’s Asperger’s-related symptoms needed some refinement.  The most noticeable example of this was in Rose’s father yelling, “‘do you see any of the other kids clapping their hands over their ears and screaming when they hear the fire alarm?” (8) While this somewhat unrefined and slightly unbelieveable moment could be rationalized by the story-telling ability of Rose herself, there was a pattern of moments like these in which the expression of symptoms could have been more skillfully done through showing rather than listing to the audience.  Indeed, Rose’s sensitivity to sounds is described several times in more integrated ways later in the book such as when she explains overhearing a secret conversation, “I hear lots of things I’m not supposed to hear . . . because my hearing is very acute, which is part of my diagnosis” (39).  Since many of these Asperger’s symptoms are eventually skillfully expressed rather than just dropped into the reader’s ear, these moments of veritable “symptom dropping” felt redundant and sometimes poorly integrated into the story itself.

Of all the elements of this book, however, this was the only part that notably suffered; Martin is a very skillful writer who has thoughtfully crafted this book. The pacing in Rain Reign is spot-on, feeling masterfully balanced between all moments in the tale; the introduction of the story has just the right amount of time spent on it so that it does not feel like it overtakes the rest of the book, which is also very balanced.  The characters are also well written; no one character feels entirely like a trope, and all of the characters undergo excellent development throughout the story.

Ultimately, Rain Reign contains top-notch storytelling that makes the novel an accessible lesson in humanity for children, and an invigorating read for adults.  I believe it might be especially important for young readers who struggle to understand the challenging situations of others, especially their peers that deal with disabilities or poverty.   As autism diagnoses are on the rise, people on the autism spectrum are becoming more visible; it is no longer uncommon for a student to have a classroom aid like Rose does, to have to leave class to undergo a specified part of their curriculum, or to simply have trouble navigating their everyday experiences.  Kids and adults are having to learn more and more how to deal with, interact with, and have compassion for those who manage autism and Rain Rein in this case is a wonderful source of that daily dose of Vitamin H(umanity).

Rain Reign

Anne M. Martin

234 pages. Feiwel & Friends. $9.99 (Kindle edition)

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