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April Discussion – Colin Fischer by Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz

Colin FisherOnce again we read a book that had as its protagonist a boy with special needs; however, Colin Fischer was a very different read from Maggot Moon. 

Firstly, we looked at the narrative structure of the book which is quite unique and divided into three parts comprising third person omniscient narration, personal extracts from Colin’s notebook and overt authorial footnotes. Most of the group thought this structure works quite well, although for some, the footnotes are an intrusion and they noted that by the end of the book they were skimming rather than reading them.  This also had the impact for some of taking them out of the flow of the story and made them aware that they were reading fiction.  We wondered whether or not our students would persist with reading the footnotes. Others thought the footnotes are useful in giving an insight into Colin’s way of looking at the world and also provide intertextual references for readers that they would not normally experience.  We noted that the writers are screen writers and discussed the effect this has on the structure of the book and we could see that this could easily be turned into a film script. We also could see how the open ending would easily lead into a sequel.

The authors have an extensive knowledge of Asperger Syndrome and are very skilled at allowing the reader to see the world through Colin’s eyes, particularly with the use of changes of font and use of skinny capitals to indicate Colin’s perceptions of emotions.  The remembered conversations and advice with the character “Marie” (Colin’s assistant from elementary/middle school) are also used to explain some of Colin’s understanding of how to read people’s emotions. Comparisons cannot help but be made between this story and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  It was generally agreed that although the stories are very similar, Colin Fischer is much more light-hearted because of the family dynamics. Some of us thought that the novels are a little too similar in parts with, for example, the solving of a mystery plot, the use of emoticons, Marie and Siobhan, the links to Basil Rathbone and Sherlock Holmes in both, and some of the factual information provided. It was also noted that when The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was first published it was very unique and unusual whereas as teachers and readers we are much more attuned now to the issues facing children on the Autism spectrum. Many of you could discuss situations with your present students who face challenges similar to those facing Colin and this gave you even more empathy and insight into the character. We were intrigued and amazed at some of Colin’s insights into human behaviour and how he applies his logical approach to even complex emotional issues.

We discussed the issue of bullying of children with special needs and also discussed the problems for them with making real and equal relationships. Many of you could directly relate these challenges to your own students.  The Principal and teachers in Colin’s school provide great examples of how to deal lovingly, but firmly, with students with special needs in understanding their particular triggers and quirks but also giving them opportunities for inclusion and success.  We particularly thought that the PE teacher Mr Turrentine is a great role model of a teacher and a person who understands how to challenge Colin yet also make him feel safe and included.

The depiction of Colin’s family is also a nice change from many middle school/YA novels.  His family is supportive and loving and there are some lovely scenes where the parents have the same concerns as those facing any teens’ parents such as, knowing when to hold on and when to let go, dealing with lying, bullying and wondering if Colin will just be ok. The resentment, frustration and jealousy that his little brother feels toward Colin are portrayed in a realistic manner and also provide some humorous scenes between the family members.

We thought that the mystery plot of the Mexican gang does not really work but overall it is just a plot device through which to tell Colin’s much bigger story. Generally we thought the overarching theme is about acceptance and this is highlighted through Colin’s indifference to the way people either accept or reject him.

Overall, Colin is a character that we can relate to and enjoy reading his story and we noticed that there is real growth in his character over the course of the novel.  There are some laugh-out-loud moments, some cringe-worthy moments and some moving and emotional moments as well. Our primary school teachers have no reservations about recommending this to some older readers in their libraries and the secondary school teachers have no reservations for any of their year levels.