Written by Ann M. Martin
Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan), 2014, 226 pp.
I wonder if my mother likes homonyms. I wonder if she likes prime numbers or rules or words. I wonder if she left because I like those things. (p. 62)
Rose Howard is in the fifth grade and has a list of particular likes that might not engage the average eleven-year-old. She loves words (mainly homonyms), rules, and numbers (especially prime numbers). Rose invites the reader into the “nonfiction” story of her real life, letting us know that she will be the main character of this, her own true life story. She also explains her need for ‘conversation starters’ when talking with others who might not be as fascinated by rules, homonyms, and prime numbers. We find out that Rose lives in upstate New York with her sporadically employed father, that she has a doting uncle named Uncle Weldon, and she has her very own ‘diagnosis’—high functioning autism, “which some people call Asperger’s syndrome” (p. 6). Her closest friend is her dog, Rain, who like Rose (Rows) also has a homonym filled name (Reign, Rein).
Rose often struggles at school to navigate social conversations, the difference between mistakes and breaking rules, and the failure of her bus driver to completely obey all traffic laws and appropriate procedures. Such troubles often land her in the hallway or principal’s office, and even get her kicked off the school bus. Her father is impatient with Rose’s school troubles and her home habits of rewriting her lists of homonyms and fixating on routine. Rain and her Uncle Weldon are two sources of comfort for Rose even when nothing else in her life feels quite right. Then, when a severe storm hits her town, Rose is suddenly left struggling with few coping mechanisms—Rain has gone missing and she and her father are isolated by raging flood waters.
During her quest to find her lost dog, Rose must conquer challenges at school, in the community, with her father, and ultimately within herself and the rules that guide her sense of right in the world. Searching for Rain helps Rose connect with classmates, community, and her own inner strength and resources; in fact, it seems to transform most aspects of her life, except for her tumultuous and tense relationship with her single father. When Rain is ultimately found, Rose must confront the dilemma of what to do when she finds out that perhaps Rain wasn’t a true ‘gift’ from her father, but actually another family’s lost pet. How can Rose let go of her truest friend? How can she not follow her own inner rules of what is right and return the dog to its original owners? And most importantly, how can Rose live with her father’s anger over her decision?
Readers connect deeply to Martin’s characterization of Rose in this powerful and poignant story. Although Rose is at first defined by her difference from peers, ultimately the book’s themes remind us that at heart, Rose is a young girl who wants and needs what all children do—connection, compassion, safety, and belonging. In an era where many books about children on the autism spectrum are written, Rain Reign stands out in its excellent portrayal of both the importance of differences and the universality of love. The book won the 2015 Schneider Family Book Award for the artistic expression of the disability experience for middle grade readers. It was also the recipient of the inaugural Charlotte Huck Award from NCTE, designed to honor fiction that has the potential to transform children’s lives by inviting compassion, imagination, and wonder.
The title would make an excellent whole-class read aloud, literature circle choice, or recommended book for independent reading. It would be an excellent book for a beginning of the year read aloud to promote classroom discussions around the ways in which we learn, the importance of care and compassion, and the inclusion of multiple ways of being in the world into classroom communities.
Ann M. Martin is well known as the original writer and creator of the Babysitter’s Club series. She lives in upstate New York where she works full time at her writing. She has written many titles for children, including middle grade novels like Rain Reign, and she is the recipient of a 2003 Newbery Honor Award for A Corner of the Universe. She is the founder of the nonprofit group, Lisa Libraries, which donates books to children in under-served areas. Although she does not maintain an author website online, she does social network on Facebook and Twitter.
Marie LeJeune, Western Oregon University