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Review: ‘Blue Bottle Mystery: An Asperger Adventure’

Blue Bottle MysteryBlue Bottle Mystery: An Asperger Adventure
Written by Kathy Hoopmann
Illustrated by Rachael Smith
Adapted by Mike Medaglia
Jessica Kingsley Publishers

If I were Ben, the protagonist of this story, I’d point out that there really is no mystery, in the sense of a problem to be solved. That’s Ben—very literal-minded, careful about details, wary of change. The book opens with a teacher scolding Ben, and each time she says something and he misunderstands, the situation escalates. It’s a surprisingly painful scene for the first few pages of a graphic novel, but it’s also the reality for many children.

Fortunately, Ben has plenty of things going for him. He knows what makes him upset—even if he can’t control it—and what makes him happy. His mother is dead, but he has loving relationships with his father and grandmother, and if his father doesn’t always get why Ben is different, he at least accepts it most of the time. His grandmother has a good way of explaining things and helping him learn ways to cope with his fear of chaos and loss of control. And his best friend Andy does the same at school, helping him decode the mysterious ways of his teachers and the other students.

When Ben and Andy find a blue bottle buried in the schoolyard, they laugh at the idea that it might have a genie inside that will grant them three wishes. And then Ben wins the lottery and Andy has a growth spurt—and they remember that when they found the bottle, Ben wished for lots of money and Andy wished he could be bigger so he could join the basketball team.

So is it a genie? All the signs point to yes, but then, to their horror, Ben and Andy start remembering some of their other wishes—that the school bullies would explode, and that school would be canceled forever—and they quickly un-wish them. But neither of them remembers, until the very end, what their first wish was when they uncorked the bottle. Without spoiling the story, that one comes true, too.

In the meantime, Ben’s father spends some of their lottery winnings on a psychiatrist who diagnoses Ben with Asperger’s syndrome. She explains what it feels like to be Ben, and she reassures Bens’ father and grandmother that they are doing a good job of supporting him.

And that’s it. Ben is Ben, and his Asperger’s is not going to be “cured,” but as the psychiatrist points out, “different” is not necessarily bad, and some of Ben’s differences are true strengths.

While the three-wishes story is cute, the really interesting aspect of this book is being able to eavesdrop on Ben’s thinking, especially when he is struggling to understand or communicate with someone else. The art is simple and straightforward, a bit clumsy in places, but the faces are very expressive. This graphic novel was adapted from a prose book of the same title, and it’s a good read in its own right as well as being a vehicle to help a new group of readers learn about what it might feel like to be a person with Asperger’s.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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