Review: Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Let me start by saying I was so excited to see a new(er) title from an author who was so central to my love of books growing up. When I started to outgrow my beloved Box Car Children, The Babysitters Club was there for me in a big way and I think owned the whole series, half of the mysteries and maybe three “Superspecials.”
Even before The Babysitters Club, Ms. Martin had a history of inclusion in her writing, and Rain Reign is no exception. Rose Howard is a young girl on the Autism Spectrum, diagnosed with what was at the time called Asperger’s. In addition, she has a challenging home life and her comfort is found primarily in three things: her Uncle, her dog, Rain, and homonyms. When a hurricane strikes her hometown, her connection to these things is challenged. Rose’s autism is not only the lens for the story but is also key to the plot and the central conflict. For her, rules are rules and moral relativism does not exist.
Rose’s voice is authentic and honest. Her narrative is frequently interrupted by her internal monologue on homonyms and prime numbers, which in turn helps the reader understand how disruptive this must be to her concentration. She is a straightforward and pragmatic story teller, frequently referring to other parts of the book as if she is writing a book report. Her repetition, rigidity and description of using strategies from her teachers ring very true to the world of ASD.
I also loved that Rose’s character touches on ideas like empathy and sarcasm. It is a common misconception that individuals on the spectrum are incapable of understanding such concepts. While they can be difficult to grasp, I think it’s important to never paint broad strokes about any group of people. As they say, “If you’ve seen one person with Autism, you’ve seen one person with Autism.” I think Rose dispels some common stereotypes and I love her for that.
As a parent, and a Special Education teacher, this is not an easy book to read. I was overwhelmed at times at Rose’s father’s behavior and poor choices. Yes, we are supposed to understand his background did not prepare him to care for a child with special needs. But come on, dude. Man up. I just wanted to make this poor girl a picture schedule and give her a weighted blanket.
The other thing that bothered me was the use of the “r-word.” Rose’s father says it in a meeting and then the story moves on. To me, this is a misstep. I think this would have been an organic chance to illustrate that this is always the wrong word to use, without seeming overly didactic. (I can assure you, if a parent said that to me in a meeting, I would gently but firmly assert that the word “retard” is not an appropriate term in any setting.) It does provide a teachable moment for those reading this book in a classroom setting, but it worries me what message is sent to those young readers exploring this text on their own.
Rain Reign is an important book and I would love to see it read in every school in 5th or 6th grade. It is an engaging narrative that helps readers to understand high-functioning Autism, which can often isolate students as just being “weird” or “different.” It encourages empathy and increases understanding of a complicated disability. While some elements are troubling, they provide the opportunity to have important conversations. I say read it!