The worst thing that can happen to a family is to be told a child has a learning disability. No, wait. It’s to lose one of the parents. No, wait. There is still one more disaster to hit the Bean family, but that comes later in the story. How Leonard Bean handles his 10-year-old daughter who has Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NLD), after his wife dies in an accident is the central focus of the first part of this nicely written book.

Olivia, whose life is dictated by this condition that makes it impossible for her to relate to all the non-verbal cues in the world and the people around her, is both charming and exasperating. Children with NLD have a certain sweet innocence about them, but they can also be highly volatile and reactionary. Olivia has a special aversion to not being able to see a person’s mouth and becomes hysterical when anyone has his or her face covered.

Len, an attorney specializing in family law, is devoted to Olivia, and manages for the most part to keep her happy and safe. “A father’s instinct to protect his little girl was natural. Len’s instinct to protect Olivia was near savage.” The one thing he cannot do, however, is change a flat tire, which is probably a good thing or he would never have met Rachel Berman, who stops one rainy day to help him when he is stranded with Olivia.

Following a somewhat predictable storyline, Rachel and Len soon start dating, but what keeps this delightful book from falling flat are the wonderful, quirky characters and the direct way the author deals with issues such as the learning disability, adoption, social groups at school, and sexual orientation. This is much more than “boy meets girl and happy ever after” story.

Rachel Berman, publisher of Perfect Parent Magazine is a single mother of two, Dustin and Janie, who are not wild about being associated with Olivia, the most mocked girl at school. Janie doesn’t have much of a social standing to begin with, and this will only push her further off the popularity grid.

The book has wonderful little gems of humor, especially when Olivia gives another dissertation on her favorite topic, the defecating habit of rats. Children with NDL can obsess about one topic into infinity, which can grate on the calmest of nerves, and the author shows how humor can be a good coping mechanism for parents and others dealing with these children.

There are also some sharp, deft descriptions that make one pause and read them again just to relish the creative use of words to paint a picture. In describing the scene at a cemetery on a rainy day the author writes, “A sea of black umbrellas burst into somber bloom as funeral attendees stepped out of cars, shivering while they waited for pall bearers to lead the way.”

The resolutions of the central issues in the book are a little too neat and idealistic, but once engaged by the characters, the reader can overlook that. After all, this is fiction.

Tish Cohen is the author of Town House (Harper Perennial), a 2008 finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – Best First Book Award (Canada and Caribbean region), and in development as a feature film with Fox 2000. Ridley Scott  is producing and John Carney, the award-winning director of Once is directing.

Maryann Miller   Maryann’s Website

Inside Out Girl
Tish Cohen
Paperback, 352 pages
Harper Collins (August 2008)
$13.95
ISBN-10: 0061452955
ISBN-13: 9780061452956
Available at Amazon

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