An Aspie’s Review of Hollow Earth

I just finished reading Hollow Earth, by John and Carole E. Barrowman. Image

I’m of course a huge Barrowman fan, so I figured if I shared with my readers that I Loved this book a couple of people would  buy it and I could pay back about 1 percent of the way his work has changed my life.

No, I’m not biased. Not one bit. 😉

But I really did Love this book. I can’t talk a lot about the specifics because I Loved it so much that I kept making myself put it down so that it wouldn’t end, and so I’m going to have to read it again to tell you which details that I Loved best. But for now, I’d like to explain how Hollow Earth appeals to me as a person with Aspergers.

The basic plot of this book involves a set of 12-year-old twins, Matt and Em Calder,  who have magical powers. Specifically, the twins can do two things: they can make drawings come to life (which is what the book’s plot hinges on) and they can communicate telepathically with each other. They each have certain strengths and weaknesses. For example, Em is, as her name may suggest, very empathetic and can tune into people’s intentions, which is important because some people are frightened of the twins’ powers or want to use them for their own purposes. She also is prone to fear, which can cause horrible things to manifest. Matt is better at animating than Em but is often overcome with anger. Guess which one I identified with more? lol

I am not sure how much of the book’s plot to talk about because I’m not good at finding the right balance between explaining what the book is about and giving things away to potential readers. So I’m going to focus on some of the book’s major themes, which really really affected me.

First of all, there’s an emphasis on the proper role of emotion which I absolutely Loved. One of the things I’m struggling with in my own life is not allowing anger or fear to completely cloud my vision and my ability to think. In Hollow Earth, these powerful emotions can literally change the landscape. Em manifests some truly terrifying things when she gets spooked and she needs her brother–and later their friend Zach–to help her keep fear under control so that it doesn’t get in the way of what she can do with her amazing powers. Similarly, Matt’s anger causes him to misuse his power sometimes and to act recklessly at times, which puts him into some dangerous situations.

The other theme that I really enjoyed in this book is that the children learn that their powers are real, that they can do anything they can imagine (quite literally since they can draw it into existence) and that there are some adults in the world who are terrified of the power of their imaginations. I really think that this is not so far off from the truth of our world. Obviously, people can’t literally make drawings come to life, although we can manifest the things we want in our lives through drawing, writing and imagining the lives we want. But I do think that it’s important to realize that there are some people that are frightened of the power of our imaginations and some people who are jealous and some people who are going to do everything they can to stop us–and that doesn’t make it wrong for us to be powerful. The children are in a loving environment where they are being taught to use their powers correctly. I think that shows children both the beauty and horror of our world and encourages them to embrace their own power and try their best not to be afraid of those who oppose them.

I think this theme really spoke to my experiences as an Aspie than anything else. You know how open I am about having Aspergers and how much it insults me that people tell me “but you seem so normal.” You know I would never want to be cured of my Aspergers and I think it gives me some abilities in some areas of my life that I wouldn’t have if I was neurotypical. And recently, as Autism Awareness month kicks off, I’ve been aware of the sharp divide between the people like me who want more awareness so that we can help autistic people use their autistic minds to their fullest potential and people who would like autism eradicated and see people like me as tragedies and aberrations and abnormalities. So for that reason, I really really was into the conflict in Hollow Earth’s fictional society. There are people in that society who want to bind the children’s imaginations and take them out of our world because they are afraid of their unusual and unique powers. I’m glad that there are books like Hollow Earth that address the way adults sometimes handle fear and hurt people. It means a lot to me.

Similarly, I appreciated very much that the third member of the team of children in Hollow Earth is deaf. Of course as an American I keep imagining him using American Sign Language and have to remind myself that his signs are probably somewhat different. (Since I Love sign language, although I have a hard time making signs because of my motor skills and coordination difficulties, I can’t wait for the movie version to see what British Sign Language–or is there a specific Scottish counterpart?–looks like.) Anyway, it was nice to see a differently abled child playing a major role in an adventure story.

Now, I’d like to say a couple of things about the environment of this book. I’m a big Harry Potter fan–one of the things that led to my Aspergers diagnosis was that I talked incessantly about Harry Potter throughout the evaluation. I’m also now a big Hollow Earth fan who can’t wait for the sequel. Both series of books involve a team of special children with magical powers, which is why I love them both. But they are totally different. One of the things I think makes Hollow Earth unique is that the children don’t go off to a special school or a special world. Their world is integrated within our world. They go to live with their grandfather and other adults who have powers like theirs on Auchimurn Island in Scotland. Basically, they are surrounded by adults who Love and guide them–and some that have nefarious wishes for them too, of course–so they are pretty much living the lives of normal children who just happen to have magical powers. Most of the mischief they get into is “normal” mischief and mild rebellion against the adults in their lives, who try to keep tabs on them and try to keep them safe.  I think this normalcy really helped draw me into the story. These children act like any children who have to spend a summer holiday on a small island would do, with the added complication that they have powers that scare certain adults.

This book is, of course, meant for the same age group as Harry Potter, but obviously it is a book adults can get into and read. I found parts of it very suspenseful, and in all honesty one reason it took me so long (besides the fact that I didn’t want to finish!) is that parts of it were really scary.  If I really identify the characters I have a hard time not running away if they’re facing danger. I’ve been that way since I was a little kid. All of which is a way of saying, this book contains enough suspense for both adults and kids, and you will not regret reading it regardless of your physical age.

Now, Hollow Earth does not come out in the US until the fall, but you can order it from Amazon and a British bookseller will get it to you in about two weeks. That’s what I did because I wanted to read it right away. Hopefully when fall comes the Barrowmans will do a book signing tour here so that I can get my copy signed. I understand there’s also an audio version coming out soon, which I will also get as soon as possible.

Categories: Aspergers, Book Reviews | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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