I admit it: I picked up Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz because they wrote the screen plays for X-Men: First Class and Thor, two superhero movies I very much enjoyed. If it hadn’t been for that piece of trivia, I probably would have said “Oh, that sounds like a ripoff of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and moved on. Instead, I read it, and now I will write about it.
The titular Colin is a boy with Asperger’s syndrome (which is on the autism spectrum but not the same as autism, though the book’s summary refers to Colin as autistic). His outsider’s perspective leads to what neurotypical readers perceive as humorous descriptions of things. (“Melissa’s pale, freckled face reddened even more as the capillaries in her skin dilated adn filled with blood. Colin recognized this as the ‘blush’ response.”) He consults facial expression flashcards to determine what others are feeling. He takes detailed notes on everything he sees in his Notebook (which he refers to with a capital N). This is all an interesting premise for a narrator, particularly of a mystery. It’s one of the things that made Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time so engaging–neurotypical readers had to struggle to understand what that book’s autistic narrator was describing. (I know it’s not fair to compare books to each other, but in this case it’s very hard not to.) Having this comparison in my head made it hard to appreciate Colin Fischer. The book is written in third person, and it seems like Colin is meant to be the narrator. The book follows his actions, and we see excerpts from his Notebook. The narration follows Colin’s attempts to make sense of events. But we frequently see observations from the perspective of other characters. (“For an instant, his mother thought it seemed odd that Colin would be assigned a research project so early in the school year.”) There are also footnotes that generally seem to reflect Colin’s knowledge, but it’s unclear what the difference between Colin’s narration, Notebook, and footnote is meant to be.
This might all sound nitpicky, but I found it very distracting. (A less nitpicky reader might not.) And having all these thoughts from other characters reduces the power of Colin’s narration. I have read books that successfully had narratorial input from a whole range of characters (Wickett’s Remedy by Myla Goldberg comes to mind), but for me, this wasn’t one of them.
In terms of the mystery itself: I don’t often read mysteries but this one didn’t seem particularly satisfying to me. We didn’t get a lot of information about the suspects (which might have been a good use for Colin’s Notebook) and the ultimate conclusion to the mystery seemed to be from pretty far out in left field. (It involves a Mexican gang.)
Still, it was a pretty fast-faced read and it might appeal to people who are bigger fans of mysteries than I am. It also had some good humorous moments.
Reviewed by: teen librarian Renata
Recommended for: mystery lovers who already read Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and want more; otherwise, just read that.