I loved this book, and even more importantly, my darling hubby liked this book. I give him about 12 to 20 books a year to read, after I have read and liked them, and think he might like them, and he only likes about a fifth of them. So either he is very hard to please, or I am rubbish at guessing what he will like (a bit of both really.)
So, you have probably heard about this book by Mark Haddon - that it is about a 12 year old boy with Asperger's syndrome, and neighbour's dog that gets killed with a pitchfork. And since the title is a well-known quote from a Sherlock Holmes story, you would guess that it's a sort of detective story. Well, it is and it isn't. Mostly it isn't. I think this is mostly a story about how people's brains work, and how they don't all work the same way. And this can be a tragedy. There is a certain amount of tragedy in this story, and I felt some overwhelming maternal protectiveness for the likable hero, Christopher.
This has occasionally been referred to as a children's book, but I have never seen it in the children's or young adult section. It is no more a children's book than Life of Pi, which also features a young boy protagonist and is a very similar book in many ways. It is far too short a book to get away with telling even a little bit of the narrative (apart from the fact that a dog is killed in the opening chapter, but everyone knows that). I prefer to concentrate on why I liked it, and why DH liked it. I think we both liked it because the boy reminded us of ourselves, but for each of us, these were very different aspects of ourselves. I identified with Chris's inability to "take in" all of his sensory environment, while being unable to screen it out the way normal people do. Although I do not have Asperger's syndrome or any diagnosed condition, I am what is known as a "low-screener" which means that all my senses are very acute (although often not particularly accurate) and I can be very "oppressed", like Chris, by colours I don't like, crowds, smells and chaos in general. And, like Chris, I use mental exercise to calm myself, often pursuing activities that would drive normal people crazy, in order to drive myself sane. DH, on the other hand, is a very, very "high screener". But he has another of the traits of Asperger's syndrome (in common with some other conditions) which is an extreme difficulty "reading" the emotions, facial expressions and body language of other people, and an aversion to the sort of familiar touching that most people do as part of their socializing. DH again is not diagnosed with a syndrome, and he likes hugs and has no problem shaking hands or anything, but still there is that commonality there and I think that plus the boy protagonist's clever maths-geek atheism, made him really identify with Chris.
This is, I think, the great strength of this wonderful little book, that it enables anyone to feel a real kinship with someone with a condition which usually makes its sufferers seems very alien to the rest of humanity. And it makes his condition, and mental illness generally, very knowable and understandable and not a cause for fear and dread.