The worst thing to ever happen to Rain Reign –a book about a young kid with Asperger’s Syndrome and a dog named Rain–was this paragraph, from the publisher’s description of the book:
“When a storm hits their rural town, rivers overflow, the roads are flooded, and Rain goes missing. Rose’s father shouldn’t have let Rain out. Now Rose has to find her dog, even if it means leaving her routines and safe places to search.”
Firstly, it’s not accurate. Rose does not go on a journey to find her missing dog as implied, and she doesn’t leave her routines behind to do it; in fact, her routines turn out to be her greatest asset in the search that does take place. Secondly, it mistakenly makes Rain Reign sound a lot like Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, about a young kid with Asperger’s Syndrome who actually does leave his routines and safe places behind to set off into the world to investigate a mystery surrounding a dog.
The thing with Curious Incident is that it really is one of the very, very best novels written in the last fifteen or twenty years, and probably a lot longer back than that, and why a publisher would set it’s release up to be compared with a book like that –especially since this book really isn’t much like that book at all– is beyond me. Especially when your author’s name carries plenty of caché on its own…
So, now that the requisite Curious Incident reference is out of the way –I suspect author Ann M. Martin is pretty tired of hearing that book’s title… It appears in almost every review I’ve read of her book– we can look at Rain Reign as its own thing, free of false expectaions.
What Martin has created here is an impeccable character study of a kid who sees the world a bit differently than most, and masterfully shows how those around her are affected by her uniquenesses. This isn’t a narrative-driven book; we’re close to 100 pages in before the storm that drives the plot even happens, and almost 120 in before Rose decides to search for him.
Rose lives alone with her overwhelmed and exasperated father and her beloved dog/best friend, Rain, a gift from her dad. Her mother is long gone, and her dad’s brother, Weldon, is the one human in Rose’s life who truly gets her and loves her without equivocation. She is obsessed with homonyms and prime numbers, and, like all kids with Asperger’s, is largely dependent on order and routine. She has difficulty connecting with her classmates, but is trying. She has trouble reading her father, but is trying. She doesn’t always grasp the concept that there is time and a place, but she is trying.
Since 2003, there have been a fair number of fiction books starring children at various points along the Autism spectrum, and I sometimes feel like authors who choose this as a character trait do so because it gets them off of the character development hook; people with Autism don’t relate like everybody else, so they musn’t develop as characters like everyone else either, right? Of course, this is a falsity, and the better entries in the Autism Fiction sub-genre know that: Curious Incident, of course, but also Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird.
Rain Reign knows this as well. Rose is not emotional; she works on instinct and inference, but she is high-functioning and her relationships are real. She develops friendships… They take a bit more effort on her part, but she is trying.
Ann M. Martin is a seasoned writer –she’s behind The Babysitters Club (I had a crush on Stacey)– and it shows. Her ability to create a character is phenomenal, but even more impressive to me is her ability to define and make intriguing her supporting characters when all she’s got to work with is the narration of a girl for whom understanding other people’s actions and emotions is not a strength. It’s done through details, which are right in Rose’s wheelhouse, like the way her father’s jaw tightens when she repeats a question, or the way her Uncle smiles when she speaks. Rose notices these things but doesn’t quite know what the mean. It really is a master class in working with constraints and restraint.
That said, there are some moments I questioned. A revelation about her mother towards the end doesn’t ring honest to me; it feels like Martin was pulling back, and it’s quite frankly unnecessary. It’s as though she got a note that certain aspects of Rose’s life were maybe overly harsh for a middle grade novel and tried to soften them up, but if that’s the case the note was wrong. I actually think that Rose’s final situation would have been much sweeter and more satisfying without said revelation.
Keep in mind that this quibble is a page and a half of a 223 page novel and hardly spoils Martin’s accomplishment. I went into Rain Reign, quite honestly, not expecting to like it all that much. I had preconceptions about it’s similarity to a book I love, and was bothered by the lack of movement in the story once I got stuck in, but that quickly disappeared as I started to appreciate Martin’s craft and fall in love with the character she created.
This is a virtuosic performance from a writer who could at this point probably just sit back and live off of Babysitting money for the rest of her life; that she continues to put up work of this rare quality is a testament to her abilities and her dedication. Is it possible Ann M. Martin is just now, 32 years after her debut, hitting her stride?
Kinderlit requested and received a copy of Rain Reign in exchange for an honest review. Read bout our review policy HERE.