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50 Signs of Mental IllnessA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Bright Red ScreamA Casebook of Ethical Challenges in NeuropsychologyA Corner Of The UniverseA Lethal InheritanceA Mood ApartA Research Agenda for DSM-VA Slant of SunA War of NervesAbnormal Psychology in ContextADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeAddiction Recovery ToolsAdvance Directives in Mental HealthAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAl-JununAlmost a PsychopathAlterations of ConsciousnessAm I Okay?American ManiaAmerican Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical NeurosciencesAn American ObsessionAngelheadAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnthology of a Crazy LadyApproaching NeverlandAs Nature Made HimAsylumAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderBeing Mentally Ill: A Sociological Theory Betrayal TraumaBetrayed as BoysBetter Than ProzacBetter Than WellBeyond AppearanceBeyond ReasonBinge No MoreBiological UnhappinessBipolar DisorderBipolar DisorderBipolar Disorder DemystifiedBlack-eyed SuzieBlaming the BrainBleeding to Ease the PainBluebirdBlueprints Clinical Cases in PsychiatryBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBorderline Personality DisorderBrain Circuitry and Signaling in PsychiatryBrave New BrainBreakdown of WillBrief Adolescent Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Child Therapy Homework PlannerBrief Therapy Homework PlannerCalm EnergyCassandra's DaughterCaught in the NetChild and Adolescent Treatment for Social Work PracticeChildren Changed by TraumaChronic Fatigue Syndrome (The Facts)Clinical Handbook of Psychological DisordersClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthCognitive Theories of Mental IllnessCommonsense RebellionCommunity and In-Home Behavioral Health TreatmentComprehending SuicideConcise Guide to Child and Adolescent PsychiatryConquering Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderConscience and ConvenienceConsciousnessConsole and ClassifyContesting PsychiatryCoping With TraumaCopshockCrazy for YouCrazy 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ChildrenEmotions and LifeEmpowering People with Severe Mental IllnessEssential PsychopharmacologyEssentials of Cas AssessmentEssentials of Wais-III AssessmentEthics and Values in PsychotherapyEthics in Mental Health ResearchEthics in Psychiatric ResearchEthics, Culture, and PsychiatryEverything In Its PlaceFamily Experiences With Mental IllnessFatigue as a Window to the BrainFear of IntimacyFinding Iris ChangFinding Meaning in the Experience of DementiaFlorid StatesFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItForensic Nursing and Multidisciplinary Care of the Mentally Disordered OffenderFountain HouseFrom Madness to Mental HealthFrom Trauma to TransformationGandhi's WayGender and Its Effects on PsychopathologyGender and Mental HealthGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGetting Your Life BackGracefully InsaneGrieving Mental IllnessHandbook of AttachmentHandbook of DepressionHandbook of Self and IdentityHealing the SplitHerbs for the MindHidden SelvesHigh RiskHope and DespairHow Clients Make Therapy WorkHow People ChangeHow to Become a SchizophrenicHow We Think About DementiaHughes' Outline of Modern PsychiatryHumanizing MadnessHysterical MenHystoriesI Hate You-Don't Leave MeI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Thought I Could FlyI'm CrazyImagining RobertImpulse Control DisordersIn Others' EyesIn Two MindsInsanityIntegrated Behavioral Health CareIntegrative MedicineIntegrative Mental Health CareIntuitionJust CheckingKarl JaspersKissing DoorknobsKundalini Yoga Meditation for Complex Psychiatric DisordersLaw and the BrainLaw, Liberty, and PsychiatryLegal and Ethical Aspects of HealthcareLiberatory PsychiatryLife at the BottomLife at the Texas State Lunatic Asylum, 1857-1997Life Is Not a Game of PerfectLithium for MedeaLiving Outside Mental IllnessLiving with AnxietyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLiving Without Depression and Manic DepressionLost in the MirrorLove's ExecutionerLoving Someone With Bipolar DisorderMad in AmericaMad TravelersMad, Bad and 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Psychiatric Press Textbook of PsychiatryThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook Of Child And Adolescent PsychiatryThe Anger WorkbookThe Anorexic SelfThe Behavioral Medicine Treatment PlannerThe Betty Ford Center Book of AnswersThe Bipolar ChildThe Bipolar Disorder Survival GuideThe Body in PsychotherapyThe Borderline Personality Disorder Survival GuideThe Broken MirrorThe Burden of SympathyThe Cambridge Medical Ethics WorkbookThe Case for Pragmatic PsychologyThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chemical Dependence Treatment Documentation SourcebookThe Chemical Dependence Treatment PlannerThe Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Clinical Child Documentation SourcebookThe Clinical Documentation SourcebookThe Complete Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Condition of MadnessThe Construction of Power and Authority in PsychiatryThe Couples Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe Criminal BrainThe Cultural Context of Health, Illness, and MedicineThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Death of PsychotherapyThe Depression WorkbookThe Difficult-to-Treat Psychiatric PatientThe Early Stages of SchizophreniaThe Employee Assistance Treatment PlannerThe Employee Assistance Treatment PlannerThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality DisorderThe Essentials of New York Mental Health LawThe Ethical WayThe Evolution of Mental Health LawThe Explosive ChildThe Fall Of An IconThe Fasting GirlThe Forensic Documentation SourcebookThe Forgotten MournersThe Gift of Adult ADDThe Good EaterThe Green ParrotThe Healing Power of PetsThe Heart of AddictionThe Heroic ClientThe Insanity OffenseThe Invisible PlagueThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Limits of Autobiography The LobotomistThe Madness of Our LivesThe Mark of ShameThe Meaning of AddictionThe Meaning of MindThe Medical AdvisorThe Mind/Mood Pill BookThe Most Solitary of AfflictionsThe Mozart EffectThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Older Adult Psychotherapy Treatment PlannerThe OutsiderThe Pastoral Counseling Treatment PlannerThe PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines & Healing TherapiesThe Places That Scare YouThe Plural SelfThe Problem of EvilThe Psychology of Religion and CopingThe Quiet RoomThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Right to Refuse Mental Health TreatmentThe Rise of Mental Health NursingThe Roots of the Recovery Movement in PsychiatryThe Savage GirlThe Self-Help SourcebookThe Talking CureThe Trick Is to Keep BreathingThe Unwell BrainThe Virtuous PsychiatristThe Way of TransitionThe Wing of MadnessThe Wisdom in FeelingTheoretical Evolutions in Person-Centered/Experiential TherapyTherapy's DelusionsTheraScribe 3.0 for WindowsThis is Madness TooThoughts Without a ThinkerThrough the Looking GlassTo Have Or To Be?Toxic PsychiatryTransforming MadnessTraumaTraumatic PastsTraumatic Relationships and Serious Mental DisordersTreating Affect PhobiaTreating Chronic and Severe Mental DisordersTreating Self-InjuryTreatment and Rehabilitation of Severe Mental IllnessTreatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety DisordersTwinsUnderstanding and Treating Violent Psychiatric PatientsUnderstanding Child MolestersUnderstanding DepressionUnderstanding ParanoiaUnderstanding the Stigma of Mental IllnessUnderstanding Treatment Without ConsentUnholy MadnessUnspeakable Truths and Happy EndingsUsers and Abusers of PsychiatryViolence and Mental DisorderVoices of MadnessVoices of RecoveryVulnerability to PsychopathologyWarning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental HealthWashing My Life AwayWhen History Is a NightmareWhen Someone You Love Is BipolarWhen the Body SpeaksWhen Walls Become DoorwaysWitchcrazeWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and Mental IllnessWomen Who Hurt ThemselvesWomen's Mental HealthWrestling with the AngelYou Must Be DreamingYour Drug May Be Your ProblemYour Miracle Brain

Related Topics
A Corner Of The UniverseReview - A Corner Of The Universe
by Ann M. Martin
Scholastic, 2003
Review by Christian Perring
Sep 8th 2009 (Volume 13, Issue 37)

A Corner of the Universe is performed in a wonderful audio book by Judith Ivey.  Set in the 1950s, 12-year-old Hattie looks back over the previous summer when her uncle Adam was released from a mental institution and came to live with his parents.  It was released several years ago, so I will give away some of the crucial points of the plot -- those who don't want to have the outcome spoiled for them should stop reading.

Hattie tells her own story to the reader, from the vantage point of several months after the summer.  She is fan only child, and lives with her somewhat unconventional parents.  They run a boarding house with three lodgers, so Hattie has to help with the work, taking one of them her morning breakfast every day.  Hattie does not mind, because she likes the lady.  She is more comfortable with the company of adults than people her own age, and she only has one friend at school.  Hattie likes walking into town and being greeted by all the store owners and getting books out of the library.  She is a serious girl who likes nothing better than to curl up on her own with a good book. 

Hattie's mother wishes she were more social, and her grandmother frankly disapproves of Hattie's antisocial tendencies.  Hattie starts to understand their attitudes when she realizes that they hope she is not like her uncle Adam.  She only learns about Adam's existence this year, when she is 11, and her parents tell her that Adam is coming to town.  She is mystified why they never told her about him before, until she meets him, and finds that he is different from other people and cannot ever had a job or get a girlfriend.  Adam is full of enthusiasm but he is often socially inappropriate in his behavior.  He has some savant skills and he becomes easily overwhelmed by strong emotions.  He sometimes throws tantrums and does not understand much of the adult world.  He loves the TV show I Love Lucy and can quote large sections of many episodes.  He gets on well with Hattie, who finds that she partly relates to him as a peer and sometimes finds herself looking after him.  She gets fiercely protective when other people call him a freak.  Yet she is also embarrassed when Adam shows a very adult interest in one of the lodgers in her house, an attractive young woman who works at the bank. 

One of the best features of the book is its sensitive depiction of people's reaction to Adam's mental illness, with Hattie's grandmother's embarrassment, her classmates' horror and taunting, and her own sympathetic understanding and appreciation of Adam's difference.  While it is set fifty years ago, not much has changed in people's attitudes. 

The central crisis of the story is Adam suicide at the end of the summer, after an episode where he was arrested in public and then given a personal shock.  It is not just a very sad moment in the plot, but a depressing one, since it gives the message that there is no place for people like Adam in the world.  His death is a solution to many problems, and although everyone feels terrible grief at his loss, it seems that only Hattie believes it is not for the best.  One might question author Ann Martin's decision to give her mentally ill character a death sentence, especially in a book for young childfren, since it may teach them that the mentally ill are doomed.  Yet Adam's death also serves to highlight how keenly Adam is missed and what he brought to the summer. 

Narrator Ivey gives a good sense of the strong social conventions of a 1950s southern town, with a reserved tone of voice.  This is thrown into sharp contrast by her performance of Adam, who is so full of energy and funny to listen to.  He makes everyone grin when they first see him at his parents' house, and makes Hattie "Christmas morning giddy." He is childlike in his spontaneity and openness, yet he is also self-conscious and he hides his personal anguish.  Ivey's charismatic portrayal of him is terrific, making him charming and perceptive, even if he does not fit in with the conventionality of the 1950s and cannot cope with its hidden realities.  It is not entirely clear why Adam ended his own life, but the realization that a woman he had a crush on had slept with another man seems to have played a major role.  It leaves one wondering if he had been treated more as an adult if he would have been better able to cope with this discovery. 

So what at first seems to be a rather conventional and nostalgic novel for children about small town life of an earlier era comes alive in a distinctive portrait of mental illness and the inability of a community to accommodate to Adam's difference.   One might wonder whether Martin's depiction of mental illness is accurate, and certainly Adam does not fit into any simple diagnostic category.  We might say now that he is on the autistic spectrum and has some other distinctive emotional and cognitive problems.  But Adam himself is a perfectly believable character, and he will long remain in readers' memories.

 

Link: Publisher website

 

© 2009 Christian Perring         

         

   

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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