Literature Annotations


Werlin, Nancy
Are You Alone on Purpose?


Genre Novel for Young Adults (204 pp.)
KeywordsAdolescence, Body Self-Image, Disability, Family Relationships, Father-Daughter Relationship, Father-Son Relationship, Illness and the Family, Mental Illness, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Sexuality
Summary

Allison Shandling is a bright 14-year-old with an autistic twin brother, Adam. She has spent her life being the "good" child, accommodating to her brother's idiosyncratic behavior, learning to weather public curiosity, support her parents, and not cause them further anxiety.

When her parents decide to reconnect with a religious community, she finds that one of the school bullies is the rabbi's son, Harry. He teases her mercilessly about her brother, especially after his father, the rabbi, takes Adam under his wing and tutors him for his bar mitzvah. When Harry is paralyzed from the waist down in a sporting accident he retreats even further into bitterness, but Allison finds herself drawn to him nevertheless.

Against her own "better judgment," she pursues a friendship with Harry, learns that the source of much of his anger lies in the death of his mother and his father's distance, and that the two of them share a sense of being marginalized in families where other critical needs have overshadowed their own very ordinary needs. Eventually friendship blossoms into a first romance as well as inciting both to initiate new conversations with their parents.

Commentary

This engaging story manages a number of issues gracefully, alternating between Allison's and Harry's point of view. Both of them grow and change credibly and surprisingly in the course of the story. The parents, though they are not the central focus, are also treated with a kind of sympathy that may allow an adolescent reader to grasp some of the difficulty of sharing attention and other resources among children, and dealing with adult losses and griefs while raising children.

The central character, Allison, is complicated, resilient, and surprising. Her issues with friends, self, family, and boyfriend are represented with discernment. The writer's own experience with an autistic sibling provides a strong ring of truth in the portrayal of Allison's relationship with Adam, and of his compulsive behavior. A useful book for discussing accommodations within family systems to illness, disability, grief, and change.

PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Edition1994
Place PublishedBoston
Annotated by McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler
Date of Entry 02/19/98