Saturday, November 6, 2010

Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury

Unlocked is Karen Kingsbury's offering to shed light on the world of autism. The story centers on Holden Harris, a non-verbal autistic teenager. He becomes reunited with his childhood friend Ella. Ella is now a pretty, popular teenager. She does not remember Holden as her mother stopped their friendship once Holden slipped into autism. She does become interested in who he is now, especially once learning how close they were as small children. Ella is also musical. She is the lead in the school musical, which is how she and Holden become re-aquainted. He loves music, it's what he hears in his head all day long.
I loved that Kingsbury uses music as an integral part of her story. I've taught classroom music for several years. Reading this reminded me of a brother and sister I taught, both autistic, both captivated by music. For the sister, music class was the only part of her day where you wouldn't neccesarily be able to pick her out as being 'different' from her peers. For the brother, he was fixated on the piano. We let him use by piano outside of my teaching time. I was fortunate to hear him one day. This child who had no musical background (save class with me) was naturally composing and using arpeggios. It was from teaching these two that helped convince me that music therapy can be such an amazing tool for autistic people.
That being said, I did have a few beefs with this book. The first was Kingsbury's use of inferring that vaccines were the cause of Holden's autism. While that has certainly been a popular theory, it is also a well researched one. The medical field have disproved vaccines as a cause for autism. As more and more parents are opting out of vaccinating their children out of fear, more and more harmful diseases that were once considered rare are now popping up again. I do think that it was irresponsible of Kingsbury to perpetuate this theory further. I would love to read a book just once where the vaccine theory is not used as a possible cause of the character's autism.
My other beef was just how 'good' Ella is. Considering the family background that Kingsbury has given her and the peer situations around her, Ella is remarkably well-adjusted. I think this is an unrealistic portrayal of a teenage girl. It just seems too good. I find that a lot with Kingsbury's writing. The easy answer. The naturally good. I find her books are highly readable, but quick reads, with not as much meat on them as there could be. I'd love to see something a little deeper than this.


Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

I'm on the fence with the vaccines. I know a woman personally whose children started exhibiting signs right after vaccines.

I don't know what to think on this. said...

What a great review! I just posted a link to it on my own site.

I’ve been a big fan of Karen Kingsbury for many years and I thoroughly enjoyed Unlocked.

This is a stand-alone novel that I wish was part of a series – I enjoyed the characters so much I want more! The funny thing is that I usually complain about the way novels in series feel like unfinished books with too many loose ends. (shrug)

Anyway, I just posted more of my thoughts on this book on my blog at