The summer Hattie turns 12, her predictable smalltown life is turned on end when her uncle Adam returns home for the first time in over ten years. Hattie has never met him, never known about him. He's been institutionalized; his condition invovles schizophrenia and autism.
Hattie, a shy girl who prefers the company of adults, takes immediately to her excitable uncle, even when the rest of the family -- her parents and grandparents -- have trouble dealing with his intense way of seeing the world. And Adam, too, sees that Hattie is special, that her quiet, shy ways are not a disability,
About the Author
Ann M. Martin is the creator of The Baby-sitters Club, which has more than 176 million books in print, making it one of the most popular series in the history of publishing. Her novels include A Corner of the Universe (a Newbery Honor Book), Belle Teal, Here Today, A Dog's Life, On Christmas Eve, and the Main Street and Family Tree series, as well as the much-loved collaborations P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More, with Paula Danziger. Ann lives in upstate New York.
Declining, as she always does, both her best (and only) friend's invitation to Maine and her grandparents' offer of summer camp, Hattie plans to spend the summer of her twelfth birthday in her hometown. She likes to wander the town's few streets, visiting the library and her grandparents and her favorite stores, but always staying close to home, which is in her case a boardinghouse run by her parents. But Hattie's desired ordinary summer is upset when not one but two strangers come to town. First to arrive is her hitherto unrevealed twenty-one-year-old uncle Adam, who suffers from an unspecified mental illness that makes his conversations an enthusiastic milange of sense, nonsense, and word-perfect dialogue from the I Love Lucy show (the book is set in 1960). Hattie is convinced that no one understands him as well as she does: "I feel a little like Adam's baby-sitter, a little like his mother, not at all like his niece, and quite a bit like his friend." The author balances this friendship with another that Hattie, surprising her shy self, begins with a girl traveling with an itinerant carnival-Leila's father runs the Ferris wheel and her mother is the "Pretzel Woman" in the sideshow. Martin excels at evoking simply the intricacies of friendship, what it enables you to give to others, and what it teaches you about yourself. She also understands its perils. Trying to offer Adam the freedom and happiness she believes is wrongly denied him by his parents, Hattie relates to him as she would a fellow child-a mistake whose gravity becomes apparent in the book's terrifying climax. Told in the present tense in Hattie's personable voice, the story takes on serious concerns but has equally strong standing as the kind of novel kids mean when they ask for "a book about friends."--Horn Book Magazine, January, 2003--starred review
It is 1960, Hattie Owen is about to turn 12, and her world is about to be turned upside down. She loves her small town and the boarding house her parents run (enabling her father to pursue his art), in part because of the security and familiarity her surroundings represent. The boarders seem to be as much a part of the family as her grandparents, who live in a mansion and literally look down their noses at the Owens. But Hattie's perceptions of life in general--and her life in particular--change when 21-year-old Uncle Adam returns to town after his residential school closes. Adam seems to be manic-depressive, and he's a savant when it comes to dates. He's news to Hattie, but he mostly delights her, and she feels she can help him. His problems, however, are more than anyone--including Adam--can handle. The book's message--that people like Adam help "lift the corners of the universe" --is passionately offered, though perhaps too oft repeated. It is Martin's characters that shine, especially Hattie, who is trying to feel her way through family secrets, and Adam, whose valiant efforts to forge a life for himself are as uplifting as his failures are heartrending. The supporting characters are strong pillars that hold up the rest of the story, and their subtle depictions provide a depth that makes it much more than a "problem novel." This is a fully realized roller coaster of emotions, and readers take the ride right along with Hattie.--Booklist, December 2002--starred review
Martin (Belle Teal; the Baby-Sitters Club series) hints at a life-changing event from the first paragraph of this novel narrated by a perceptive and compassionate 12-year-old, and set in the summer of 1960. Hattie Owen had been anticipating a summer as comfortably uneventful as all the others ("I just want things all safe and familiar," she admits), helping her mother run their boarding house, painting alongside her artist father and reading "piles" of books. Then Uncle Adam (whom Hattie never knew existed) makes a surprise entrance, turning everything upside-down. Hattie's mother says that Uncle Adam has "mental problems." Hattie's grandparents act embarrassed whenever he is around, and her peers laugh at him. The author authentically conveys the ripples Adam sends through this small town. The heroine is continually amazed by his outlandish antics, moved by his sudden mood changes and secretly wonders if she and Adam might be kindred spirits. Hattie finds adventure and tragedy as well as enlightenment as she "lifts the corners of [her] universe" in order to better understand Adam. With characteristic tenderness and wisdom, the author portrays the complex relationship between the sympathetic heroine and her uncle ("I feel a little like his baby-sitter, a little like his mother, not at all like his niece, and quite a bit like his friend"). Readers will relate to Hattie's fear of being as "different" as Adam, and will admire her willingness to befriend an outcast. Hearts will go out to both Hattie and Adam as they step outside the confines of their familiar world to meet some painful challenges.--Publishers Weekly, July 22, 2002--starred review
Watching home movies, Hattie looks back over the summer of 1960 and the events that changed her perception of life. The 12-year-old has difficulty making friends her own age, but enjoys the company of an elderly boarder, the friendly cook, and her artist father. Her relationship with her mother is sometimes difficult because they must always negotiate clothing and behavior to suit her wealthy, overbearing maternal grandmother. Suddenly, an uncle whom Hattie has never heard of comes to live with her grandparents because his school has closed. Although she is totally shocked at the existence of this rapidly babbling, Lucille Ball-quoting, calendar-savant child in a man's body, Hattie comes to appreciate his affection for her, his exuberance for life, and his courage in facing society's rejection. When she suggests that he sneak out to join her for a night of fun at a carnival, tragedy ensues. Hattie's narration is clear and appealing. Her recollection of the smallest of behaviors shows that each family member has felt both love and pain for her uncle, but could not express it. As she comes to understand what Uncle Adam meant when he spoke of being able to lift the corners of our universe, she is hopeful that her family can learn to heal and communicate. Martin delivers wonderfully real characters and an engrossing plot through the viewpoint of a girl who tries so earnestly to connect with those around her. This is an important story, as evocative on the subject of mental illness as Ruth White's Memories of Summer (Farrar, 2000).--School Library Journal, September 2002--starred review
In July of 1960, just as she is turning 12, Hattie Owen's quiet, solitary summer-occupied with books, the various residents of her parents' boarding house, small errands about town, and avoiding her grandmother-is disrupted, bringing a loss of a kind of innocence and a look at the wide borders of the world. Hattie's autistic, emotionally challenged young uncle returns home to live with his parents after the institutional school in which he has lived half his life-and all of Hattie's-closes permanently. Hattie's well-to-do and severe grandparents are clearly burdened by their difficult child, but Hattie is intrigued, and charmed, by Adam's rapid-fire way of talking, his free-associating, and his liberal use of dialogue from "I Love Lucy." Adam's quirky, childlike enthusiasm and his obvious delight with her endear him to Hattie immediately, as does his vulnerability to Nana's strictures on behavior. When a carnival comes to town Hattie befriends Leila, a girl who travels in the carnival with her family, and it is Adam and Leila who together give Hattie her first birthday celebration among friends. Adam's crush on one of the boarders at the Owens' rooming house is the catalyst for the tragic ending, though Adam's fundamental inability to protect his feelings in the world destroys him. His suicide and its aftermath-his siblings' grief, his mother's sudden remorse, Hattie's courage to speak at his funeral-are nearly unsurprising, but moving nevertheless. In the end Hattie has had a glimpse into, as she says, "how quickly our world can swing between what is comfortable and familiar and what is unexpected and horrifying," and she has opted for herself to live in such a world, to keep lifting the corners of the universe. Martin's voice for Hattie is likable, clear, and consistent; her prose doesn't falter. A solid, affecting read.--Kirkus Reviews, October 1st 2002, starred review
Fourteen-year-old Hattie enjoys spending the summer helping her parents run their small-town rooming house. Sophisticated Miss Angel Valentine, old Miss Haggerty, and clock-obsessed Mr. Penny all seem interesting to Hattie. The summer of 1960, however, is to be more interesting than Hattie could imagine. To start with, Fred Carmel's Funtime Circus is coming to town, and with it comes Leila, a girl Hattie's age. Next, Uncle Adam comes back home. Hattie did not even know that Adam existed until now. Adam has been away in a special school for almost as long as Hattie has been alive. The school is closing, and autistic Adam is sent home to live with Hattie's rather stiff grandparents. Hattie and Leila do not understand all the fuss over Adam. They even hatch a plan to sneak Adam out for a night to have some carnival fun. Unfortunately, a tragedy causes Hattie to come to terms with the two separate phases of her life-"Before Adam" and "After Adam." Martin writes in such a way that the reader can imagine small town life through Hattie's eyes. This bittersweet and quiet story of friendship and loss will appeal to younger readers, as well as to those who have carried the title of "different."--Voice of Youth Advocates, December 1st, 2002