A Boy Called Bat - Elana K. Arnold

For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.

But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

Elana K. Arnold is amazing. I have known her mostly from her much more, shall we say, edgy young adult novels, but what is even more incredible is that she so seamlessly switches from a YA voice to the voice of a small child! I can barely believe it's the same person who has written A Boy Called Bat and What Girls are Made Of! Wow! Okay, now that that's out of the way...

I really hope to see this book rising up next year during Schneider Family award discussions, considering how subtly and expertly Arnold explores a brief time in the life of an autistic child. After his veterinarian mother brings home a baby skunk, Bat finds himself becoming ever more motivated to keep the kit as his own pet. Every time someone tells him it's not a great idea, he finds a way to show how dedicated he is and how much he cares for his new little friend. At the same time, Bat goes through day to day experiences doing his best to exist in a world whose rules he doesn't entirely understand.

What I really love is that while the main text of the novel does not directly label Bat as autistic, his actions, internal monologues, and ways of interacting with family members and peers is indicative of being on the spectrum. Bat is never really considered to be mentally disabled or disadvantaged in any way, being empowered by his teacher, Mr. Grayson, and his mother. And even though his father is not fully in the picture (his parents are divorced), he is not a stereotype, but rather a person who just doesn't completely understand how to interact with his son.

Bat's classmates, his sister, his mother, and his father, are all fully fleshed out characters within the text, and even though the narrative only takes place over a few short weeks, readers will find themselves fully immersed in Bat's life and everyday struggles. This is a really awesome book for young readers, and one that adults will find just as hopeful and necessary as children themselves. Bonus points for adorable accompanying illustrations from Charles Santoso.

Highly Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reader's Copy - Out March 14, 2017)


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