Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Frances Maynard - The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr

Elvira Carr believes in rules. She also strongly believes in crisp schedules, clear guidelines, and taking people at face value. Not that the twenty-seven-year-old sees many people. After several unfortunate incidents, her overbearing mother keeps her at home.
But when her mother has a stroke, Elvira is suddenly on her own. To help her navigate a world that is often puzzling, she draws up seven ironclad rules. Armed with these, a notebook full of questions, and guidance from a helpful neighbor, she takes charge of herself ? and realizes that something isn't quite right about the life she thought she knew.
She'll need all the courage, perseverance and curious charm she can muster to unravel the mystery of what happened to her family and to manager her own life, her way.

Comment: I've added this book to my reading list back in 2018, probably because it would feature a heroine with autism and I tend to be curious on how authors present such a theme in a fiction book (as opposed to a non fiction/academic) and how captivated I can be with the characters' experiences.

In this book we follow the thoughts and actions of Elvira Carr, a young woman with Asperger's but which she defines herself as her "condition", after her mother, who has always taken care of her, has a stroke and needs to be put in a nursing home, since Elvira can't do it on her own. Now Elvira is alone, she sticks to her routines and she has her neighbor to help if necessary, but she finds herself thinking about trying different things, stuff she wasn't allowed to but that she often believed she might try. Throughout her days and experiences we learn abut who she is, the memories she clings to, especially those of her late father, and we see how someone with a different mind process now faces new challenges and copes with the discoveries she makes of life and of her own past.

It was a nice surprise to see how enjoyable this story ended up being. I already thought it would be so, that is why it was in the pile, but it was still great to confirm the story was as interesting as I imagined by the blurb. The main character, Elvira, was quirky and appealing and I was rooting for her.

Elvira has "a condition" which is never mentioned during the book but at the end the author includes some notes and it becomes apparent the condition was Asperger's. Or, a version of it, as I've seen it can look differently, depending on the case/person. Books with "special" characters can be good without readers having much knowledge of the symptoms/manifestations of their medical cases because the fun part of this is to follow the fictional life of the character. If the intention was to learn about the conditions or to distinguish them all, a non-fiction or medical book would be more suitable.

So, with my lack of knowledge and my desire to be captivated by one possible interpretation of someone with a different way of seeing things, I expected this story to be good but I was still happy to know Elvira and to see how she dealt with changes and new experiences in her life. It can seem as if characters with Asperger (or other autism manifestations) all act the same but it isn't so, each person is their own individual and act/react differently to their routines. I think it was quite interesting how Elvira was put in a situation where she felt like she had to do something. Her mother's illness made her sad in her own way but it also allowed her to try things she would not have otherwise.

Elvira is, therefore, quite a determined and adventurous person. Se often shares views of herself and of why what others do doesn't make sense to her way of seeing things but she is a caring, dedicated person and easy to root for. I kept being curious about what she would do, how she would convince herself to try something and how her behavior would sometimes make others mistreat her or think she wasn't clever. In fact, she was very clever and managed to learn new things easily... it's just the complexity of social interactions that confuse her.

The author used interesting elements to make this a captivating plot, namely some mystery about her father's work abroad, why her mother was bitter even while protecting Elvira in her own way, and how Elvira had to learn a lot when she decides to apply to be a volunteer on an animal rescue center. All these things makes us want to peel Elvira's layers and know more about her and I think, for the most part, the story and the theme worked well together and I was very interested in reading.

If there's one weaker element to me is how the end feels rather incomplete. There's one detail I wish there was an explanation for, some moments drag a bit through the novel and the end doesn't seem to offer any obvious sort of closure, it's more left in the open for interpretation. Don't get me wrong, the story has a conclusion but... I suppose I wish it were a little stronger, with a more obvious "lesson" or "goal" to have been accomplished.

Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable read and I do plan on reading the author's other book, to check if her style continues captivating in a different work. As for this one, a good surprise for certain.

Grade: 8/10

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