Harrison & Anna
by Lorna Shultz Nicholson
Clockwise Press 2015
paperback 254 pages
A review by Michael Sobota
Lorna Shultz Nicholson is an Alberta based author of many novels, most of them aimed at children and teens.
Fragil Bones: Harrison & Anna is YA or targeted for young adult readers. I want to quickly say it is just fine for adult readers too, particulary as to the nature of the subject matter Nicholson explores.
Harrison is a fifteen-year-old boy living with high-functioning autism. This particular health condition used to be called Aspergers, until modern medical science gained a better understanding of the spectrum of autism, and the flexibiliy within the condition.
Harrison - and his mom, dad and older brother Joel - live daily with the compelling challenges of autism. They include many areas of obessive-compulsive behaviors (Harrison nightly sets the dinner table and it has to be done in the correct order and exactly the same, each time. And if such a routine is disrupted, he immediately is confused and anxious ). He is considered high functioning, which allows him to attend high school.
There he meets and is befriended by Anna, a senior who is a top student hoping to get into medical school after graduation.
The two of them meet in a new school club called Best Buddies. The club's intent is to match sudents with special needs with other students who are willing to engage and support them. It is sort of a big-brothers or big-sisters, only the matching happens amongst peers.
One of Harrison's uncanny abilities is to recall and recite every bone in the human body. He does this whenever he gets anxious, a condition he calls 'spinning'. Anna, in her pre-med school track, finds his bone-recall fascinating and not at all alarming. They embark on several activities that broaden what each of them knows about life and being on the cusp of adulthood.
Nicholson writes short, focused chapters, alternating voice from the perspective of each of her two protagonists. She has an authentic ear for teen-age dialogue and an equally sharp insight about the family dynamics between parents and teens.
Fragile Bones is not all warm, fuzzy hugs and achievements. Harrison's daily living is always seconds away from meltdowns, when he is unable to control either his physical movements or his brain overloading with words and emotions. Because he knows the bone structure so well (he has been to his local Science Centre 889 times and always begins each visit at the human model section), he gets particularly upset when he sees women wearing high heel shoes. He also is germaphobic, constantly carries around hand-sanitizer, and reacts negatively when he sees anyone kissing (it spreads germs, including mononucleosus!).
Harrison and Anna explore not only their own relatonship, but that of other school classmates, some of them eccentric in their own ways. Youg love emerges, but not in a stereotypical way.
This is an engaging, easy and rewarding read.
Michael Sobota is a Thunder Bay-based writer.