The "Normal" Kid in the Family: Background information when reading All the Major Constellations

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All the Major Constellations

by Pratima Cranse

All the Major Constellations by Pratima Cranse X
All the Major Constellations by Pratima Cranse
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    Nov 2015, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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About this Book

The "Normal" Kid in the Family

This article relates to All the Major Constellations

Print Review

In All the Major Constellations, Andrew, the 17-year-old protagonist, throws himself into his summer job as a laborer when his life becomes unmanageable. The heavy outdoor work where he toils alongside grown men becomes a safe refuge of physical exertion.

One day, over bag lunches, he unloads the sum of all his current problems – a dying friend, unrequited love, spiritual ennui, a bullying boorish brother, his mom not loving him, and more – on an adult co-worker. "I'm sorry I told you all of those things," he says. The man, named Cheeve, reassures him that sometimes it's easier to tell things like that to a virtual stranger. After admitting that he can't help Andrew with any of it he says, "I doubt that bit about your mom not caring about you." When Andrew asks him how he could know that Cheeve says, "Sometimes, in a family like yours, the normal one gets the shaft."

It takes Andrew a moment but he quickly understands what Cheeve is talking about. "Instead of dealing with the shit storm of dysfunction that was Brian and their father, his mother had chosen to distance herself from him [Andrew]. And she had done this because he was normal, because he was safe."

With over six million American school children diagnosed with a wide range of disabilities – according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, an estimated 12% of children between the ages of 3 and 21 have "special needs" – educators, as well as child behavior specialists, have developed suggestions for teaching and parenting them. But many of these children have siblings who display no disabilities. And it is widely acknowledged that these so-called normal children's needs frequently fall through the cracks. Which is not surprising, given the amount of time and resources needed to serve their special needs siblings.

What Cheeve is pointing out is that Andrew's older, high-achieving, athlete brother may, in a way, be considered a special needs child too (now a young adult but no less demanding.) He implies that Brian has always received special recognition, not just from a father that lives vicariously through him, but from every coach, physical education teacher, and college sport scout he'd ever encountered. And that Andrew, the "normal" child, has sort of fallen through the cracks in his parents' lives as a result of the demands necessary to develop Brian's exceptional skills.

In fact, Andrew displays many of the feelings that a University of Michigan child behavior website attributes to siblings of special needs children: they may feel jealous of the attention their sibling receives, angry that no one pays attention to them, resentful of having to explain their brother/sister, embarrassed about their sibling's behavior, pressure to be or do what their sibling cannot, guilty for negative feelings they have toward their sibling, or guilty for not having the same problems.

There are many areas in which Andrew's parents appear to drop the ball, so to speak, on caring for the needs of their youngest child. Due to Brian's overwhelming ego demands – to say nothing of the expense of special athletic equipment, etc. – they seem to prefer to pay little attention to Andrew so long as he doesn't act out. Even though Andrew is an excellent student and a valuable employee to the boss at his part time job, his parents make no note of it, obsessing instead over Brian's accomplishments.

And when Brian inevitably gets into trouble, his parents all but completely lose touch with Andrew. Luckily Andrew – and many children with special needs siblings – can end up being well adjusted adults almost as a default position; especially with support from their peers and adult teachers or family members.

Article by Donna Chavez

This "beyond the book article" relates to All the Major Constellations. It first ran in the November 4, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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