Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Comments: 54



The best-selling novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) received multiple awards and high praise for its portrayal of a disabled protagonist, Christopher Boone, who is usually described as having Asperger’s/autism.

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME at GoodreadsMark Haddon wrote it after (in his own words) doing no research other than reading an essay and a few popular articles about and by autistic people, and over the years, both Haddon and his publisher(s) have retreated from describing the protagonist as having Asperger’s, possibly in response to criticisms of its accuracy. A quick survey of reviews on Amazon indicates that readers often believe it to be a convincing portrayal, although many do not appear to have any exposure to autism other than Curious Incident.

The book is told from Christopher’s viewpoint, with Christopher as the ostensible author of the book we are reading, with writing help from his mentor and teacher Siobhan. Christopher’s narration didn’t resonate with my own experience of autism, and most autistic people I’ve spoken to didn’t relate to him either (though some do). However, my purpose here isn’t to discuss whether Christopher is really autistic, or to give an overall critique of the book. My specific point is that this book portrays its autistic protagonist in ways that will give readers negative, incorrect, and in some cases abusive ideas about autistic people. You should not recommend this book to autistic people or their families or friends, or to anyone else, especially not as a good representation of autism.

The protagonist

Christopher is portrayed as elitist, violent, and lacking empathy. If this book were my only or primary exposure to representations of autistic people, I would think they were threatening and cared only about themselves. The way the author chooses to portray Christopher makes me worry that some people will assume that harmful treatment toward autistic people is okay, or even deserved. Even in the best case scenario, this book does not give an inexperienced reader any sense of how an autistic person could be an interesting conversation partner, or a friend, or a kind person.

Christopher thinks everyone is less intelligent than him: He praises his own intelligence on multiple occasions, while describing all the other disabled kids at his school as “stupid” (43) and simultaneously trivializing their disabilities by saying that everyone has difficulty learning some things. Christopher looks down on non-disabled people as well, saying that “most people are almost blind and they don’t see most things and there is lots of spare capacity in their heads and it is filled with things which aren’t connected and are silly.” (144) Haddon may be trying to show the reader that Christopher sees non-autistic people in the same way they often see him in the novel; regardless, the effect is that Christopher looks intolerant and dismissive.

In his favorite dream, almost everyone in the world dies, preferably in ways which don’t leave bodies everywhere, so that he can do whatever he wants, such as breaking into other people’s houses and taking their things. The only people remaining are people like him who are very shy and who he rarely has to see. Wishing everyone you knew was dead (he does not describe anyone else as similar to him) is pretty horrible, and many autistic people would be devastated at losing family members and friends. Christopher is not at all bothered by this.

There are numerous places in the story where a non-autistic character would feel or show empathy, and Christopher does neither (apart from one instance where he suggests bringing food and a card to his mother when she is in the hospital). This contrasts heavily with my own experience and that of most autistic people I know and have read about, and it reinforces the harmful (and inaccurate) stereotype that autistic people don’t have empathy.

Christopher is violent on multiple occasions, without apparent regret or internal conflict: In the past, he hit a student hard enough to send her to the hospital when she pulled his hair, and broke his mother’s toes by throwing a cutting board at her after she threw food across the room. He punches a police officer in response to being touched. His violent acts are portrayed as having causes, but none of them came across to me as narratively justified by his internal or external experiences, with the exception of hitting his father in self-defense. Threatening people who tried to help him in the subway particularly stood out, as did his desire to stab someone in response to test anxiety (he eventually decides not to stab his invigilator because he “was very tall and if I hit him or stabbed him with my Swiss Army knife he wouldn’t be my invigilator for the rest of the exam.” [212]).

Some autistic people are violent, in particular in response to sensory overwhelm. That does not make them undeserving of support and help, any more than it makes it okay to overlook the violence or fail to protect other people from it. But, most autistic people are not violent. The extensive violence made me uncomfortable because it sends the message that this is what being autistic is like.

If you recommend this book to someone as a portrayal of autism, this is how it represents autistic people: elitist, unconcerned for others, and frequently, remorselessly violent.

Christopher is treated terribly by almost every other character and almost everyone overlooks it.

Christopher is abandoned, deceived, abused, gaslit, and insulted, often by authority figures. Most other characters overlook or actively attempt to justify this. Equally disturbing is that on many occasions Christopher has no apparent emotional or physical reaction to abuse or insults. This particularly bothers me because it suggests that abuse and insults don’t harm autistic people, although they do, sometimes very greatly.

[SPOILERS throughout the rest of this section. Note that this also contains extensive descriptions of child abuse and neglect.]

His father abuses, deceives, and gaslights him, and kills a dog, and other characters let it pass.

Christopher’s father swears at and insults him, and has threatened to hit him on multiple occasions (47) which Christopher justifies as a reaction to his “Behavioral Problems.” It’s implied, though not explicitly stated, that he knocks Christopher unconscious during a fight. Christopher’s mentor and teacher Siobhan inquires briefly about his bruises, but when Christopher doesn’t want to talk about it further, she never brings it up again (or if she does, it isn’t mentioned). Throughout the book, no character indicates that verbal abuse or violence is wrong when done to Christopher, only when it is done by Christopher (he describes others telling him he should not hit other kids at his school or call them stupid).

Christopher’s father lies to him for at least a year and a half, telling him his mother has died, and hiding the letters the mother mails to Christopher. He tells Christopher he did this “for your good” (114) and says “I would never, ever do anything to hurt you” (219), despite having actually done so in various ways. His mother is upset by the deceit when she finds out, but no one else is.

When Christopher tells other characters that his father stabbed the father’s ex-girlfriend’s dog to death with a garden fork, they disbelieve him or overlook it. A neighbor says she’s “sure that there’s been some dreadful misunderstanding.” (134) Two separate policemen are skeptical or uninterested. The only person in the book who is shocked and believing is Mr. Shears, Christopher’s father’s romantic rival. His reaction is limited to a single exclamation (“Jumping Jack Christ,” 192). His mother’s only reaction to the news is to chastise Mr. Shears for swearing. I don’t think Haddon is endorsing their reactions to him, but he is portraying a non-reaction as normative and without consequences.

Because the dog’s owner declines to press charges, there are ultimately no consequences to his father for killing the dog other than a rupture in Christopher’s relationship with him, which he tries to pressure Christopher into repairing by focusing exclusively on how much Christopher is hurting him (218).

Christopher’s mother supports the reconciliation, and he ultimately has to stay at his father’s house between when school ends and when his mother gets off work. He is justifiably terrified, hiding in his room and pushing the bed against the door to try to prevent his father getting in. In response, his father tries to talk to him through the door and sometimes “[sits]on the floor outside the door quietly for a long time.” (217) Not only does no one object to any of this, but the emotional tone of this section seems to indicate that the author himself does not recognize how threatening and creepy it is.

Eventually their relationship improves because the abuser who killed his ex-girlfriend’s dog in an uncontrollable rage buys Christopher his own dog to protect him. The dog then lives at Christopher’s father’s house, where it will presumably be perfectly safe.

His mentor and teacher Siobhan helps Christopher with at least the early parts of the book, including discussing it with him and editing it for grammar and spelling. She’s absent (without explanation) from the latter part of the book, even after Christopher has returned to school, but it seems likely he would have shared it with her. If so, she would have been aware of all of the above. This would have been a good opportunity for someone to stand up for Christopher or at least convey to him (and the reader) that he does not deserve abuse or neglect, but it doesn’t happen. Because she is shown as more supportive of Christopher than other characters in the book, and specifically because she is a professional charged with helping him learn effective and appropriate social responses, her absence is particularly notable.

His mother hits Christopher and blames her marriage difficulties, affair, and subsequent abandonment of Christopher on him.

Christopher describes his mother as having hit him on multiple occasions (82) as well as repeatedly threatening to institutionalize him (48). She describes him as the cause of the conflict between his parents and their hate for each other, a viewpoint he has internalized: “I used to think that Mother and Father might get divorced. That was because they had lots of arguments and sometimes they hated each other. This was because of the stress of looking after someone who has Behavioral Problems like I have.” (45-46)

In a letter to Christopher, she describes his actions as leading to conflict with his father and eventually her affair. She tells him the trigger for her finally was realizing Christopher didn’t “really need [her]at all. And somehow that was even worse than you and me arguing all the time because it was like I was invisible.” (109)

His father is angry that his mother had an affair and left, and that she abandoned Christopher, but no one is shown as saying, “You shouldn’t hit your kid, threaten to institutionalize them, and convince them that all this plus your affair and abandonment were their fault.”

Haddon encourages the (non-autistic) reader to sympathize with Christopher’s parents – even when he’s supposedly writing from Christopher’s point of view. Combined with his systematic dampening of Christopher’s own emotional responses, he almost seems to be making excuses for the parents – or at least encouraging the reader to see this kind of inexcusable (and illegal) behavior as unavoidable.

Other characters insult him because they realize he’s disabled or naive.

There’s also a notable absence of characters who recognize how much help he needs navigating public transportation; instead, various characters insult him when they realize that he’s disabled or naïve, calling him “a prize specimen” (152) and a “bloody handful” (160), asking if he’s “for real” (172), etc. Christopher doesn’t appear aware that he’s being insulted, nor does he appear bothered by it; it’s allowed to pass without comment.

Abuse, bullying, and casual insults are unfortunately common experiences for autistic people, and it isn’t inaccurate of Haddon to portray them. But the way he portrays them is terrible. By showing Christopher as not noticing or responding to insults and abuse, he suggests that being cruel to autistic people isn’t that bad. Readers who see an autistic person being mistreated are less likely to stand up for them if they believe they won’t even notice it. By showing him being treated badly by multiple people he meets in public, Haddon sets the expectation that this kind of treatment is universal, inevitable, and normative. These interactions could have been used to show non-autistic characters modeling effective support skills, but were not.


Curious Incident portrays the autistic protagonist as unsympathetic, elitist, violent, and lacking in empathy. It portrays abuse, abandonment, and gaslighting as a normal (or even justified) response.

The book normalizes abuse, presents the autistic protagonist as responsible for it, and suggests that he is not harmed by much of it. This happens toward autistic people in real life, too, and it is very harmful. That is the strongest reason you should not recommend this book. Instead, please consider recommending books that don’t normalize abuse, that acknowledge the harm it does to us, and that call out characters who abuse and victim-blame.

There are much better books about autistic characters, some of which are being reviewed here this month. Recommend one of those instead!

About Author

Elizabeth Bartmess

Elizabeth was unschooled growing up and largely raised by books. She is currently editing an anthology with contributions by adult-diagnosed autistic people, and writing speculative fiction about Jewish magic and folklore and about extra-neurodiverse fictional cultures. She does disability advocacy on Twitter, where she co-mods the #autchat and #autismmeans hashtag events.



  1. My son has Asperger’s. I had some of the same issues with this book, but also saw much of my son in it. Now, my son has Asperger’s co-morbid with a handful of other issues. And those issues make him and Christopher very much alike, so this book really helped my mother (my son’s grandmother) with understanding how he thinks. The abuse and the way people treated Christopher bothered me a lot too. I think the author should maybe make it clear that Christopher is quite likely autistic AND something else.

  2. This is a great post, thanks for writing it! For a long time I’ve felt uncomfortable when I see people reading this book, mostly because I remembered how elitist Christopher was and how he wanted everyone to die; I don’t like going around feeling like that is people’s impression of me. I had completely forgotten (or failed to notice) how terrible Christopher’s parents and the other people in his life are. Honestly that message–that it’s okay for Christopher’s parents to do all this because of his “Behavioral Problems”–is just as scary and dangerous to Autistic people as the elitist/heartless portrayal of Christopher.

    It’s kind of funny to think you could read the book against the obvious intended meaning, as being about a kid who’s not empathetic because…shocker, everyone abuses him and treats him like he doesn’t have any feelings.

    • I think that’s a plausible alternative reading – he doesn’t exactly have good role models! And it’s not difficult to see why he might want to not be around the people he’s usually around. I think a scene similar to the wanting-everyone-to-die scene could have shown that very sympathetically, by talking about how he wished he could be completely alone sometimes and why, instead of talking about how he wished everyone would die.

    • I think it’d be great for *that* to have been the punchline, you know. Here’s someone who’s angry and has a low opinion of everyone around him because that’s kinda what happens when someone is treated like crap all their lives. But if from beginning to end, the direction of cause and effect is backwards… yeah. Very dangerous to present this as the truth.

    • I remember reading this book as a teenager/preteen and liking/identifying with Christopher. I did not remember the book though, I mean what happens, most likely because the way abuse is ignored was way too close to my life.
      I was physically and verbally/emotionally abused as a preteen until my late teenage years/young adulthood and the other, non-physical aspects of abuse, still lasted until recently and I’m still not sure because apparently now my mother understands sincerely what she did was wrong, but in the beginning of June she still wanted to institutionalize me, throw me out, told me to kill myself and wanted to throw a glass at me. She also kept me from choosing my career path as a teen, so I couldn’t learn a job to leave home.
      I had also been bullied at school, and when I dropped out I hoped I’d feel better but I was still traumatized and she still hit and insulted me. I really had to stand up for myself to get her to stop hitting me, it took multiple times and nobody would help me, and even afterward it took her years to seemingly understand it was wrong which happened in late June; she told me there was no excuses for what she did, but that she can’t go back in time, and that she is sorry and she even cried but I’m not sure I can trust that she really understands it.
      When I talked about being abused to people, they justified it saying it’s normal since I had panic attacks and didn’t socialize normally, saying I would also hit my kids when I’ll be an adult, telling me I’m bad for wanting to be told something else than that I should “understand” my mother including by someone I thought was my best friend (online, now I only trust online people who I know have also been abused or know abuse is wrong, and since I can’t check that easily in real life I don’t really trust anyone in real life…)
      At some point I also was violent to other people, but I was mostly verbally threatening and insulting, I had morbid interests and to be honest if it weren’t for a few recent online friends, I still feel as if I’d prefer everyone else to be dead. Don’t take it personally though, I don’t want any individual you to be dead, I’d just prefer being totally alone in the world. You’re probably an alright person, though.
      At some point I also really liked Good Will Hunting and saw it multiple times. The scene I liked the most was when his psychologist hugs him saying it was not his fault. I’m about to cry just remembering it and I think sometimes I cried seeing it, but at this point I did not make the link between my situation and Will’s, most likely because he was older and had already gotten away from his father. I’m 21 now. Maybe I should see this movie again.

  3. Than you for this excellent critique of the book. A lot of people ask me what I thought of it, and yes, I was told to read it as an entree into the minds of autistic people. As such, it’s an alarming book and really needs to be called out as such.

    I think it’s a well-written and well-paced story, but it’s not being treated as fiction, so it’s really important to make the points you’re making. Thank you.

    My friend Nick Walker recommends instead the book Songs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes as a wonderful, responsible, and non-ableist journey into the inner life of an actually autistic person.

    • I think that’s a really good point, that it’s being treated as information, almost as though it were an actual autobiography. (And when I read reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, some were by people who thought it really was an autobiographical account by an autistic teenager.) It has problems as a work of fiction, and they get worse when the book is treated as a way to learn about autistic people.

  4. I liked Christopher and found him to be charming and relatable. Because of this, I also thought it was a well-written and enjoyable book. But after reading your review, I came to realize how much of my response was based on what I brought to the table.

    I recognized the offensive things that Christopher says as the kinds of things someone like me might say, or think, even though I also understand why they’re confused or unfair. I filled in the emotions that seemed to underlie his inapt, deadpan, or deliberately avoidant descriptions of things. And I loved the way his train of thought winds between reality and theory, because I’ve never seen the flow of my own internal monologue represented so well.

    That’s why I’m so glad you chose to write a review of this book’s position as an introduction to autism for outsiders. If I ignore my existing knowledge and pay attention to what’s in the text, then I see what you’re talking about — it gives an externalized, opaque picture of Christopher’s experience that doesn’t give the unfamiliar reader much of an entry point. It seems especially inapt as the “autism relations 101” text that people seem to think it is.

    • Excalty! I think the problem is nt’s seems to think we are not abused and made to feel shit. As you said when you bring an understanding to the book it makes sense. Without sounding like a psycho I do have dark thoughts, but never act on them. It’s hard for me to explain, I think some of the readers can’t make the connection that people on the Spectrum can to this book.

  5. interesting comments- see this is where I have problems with the comments. I am autistic and found the book helpful, showing anger and frustration felt. I have Aspergers and was diagnosed late in life in my early forty’s, this gives me a great insight. For years I knew I was different I didn’t know why. People didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to say to them – this made me angry,frustrated, rage boiled in my veins. I didn’t have an outlet to express myself. I don’t always feel empathy, generally I only feel it if it’s happened to me. Without people even realising I feel abused, well
    I used too. Not no more. It’s a character in a book no more. I think people can read past that. If they are reading the book they must already have a interest in autism. So I’m guessing they can read between the lines.

  6. I read the book many years ago shortly after it came out. I thought it was a rather interesting read and very well written. My favorite part was how he was always doing mental puzzles like Conway’s Puzzle (which I managed to “solve” based on the hint from the book).

    Of note was the fact that (at least in every copy I looked at), the only place it mentioned “autism” was in the “Library of Congress Category Section” on the copyright page (the same place it listed it as *fiction*).

    To me, as a young person reading the book, I found many of the main character’s struggle’s relatable, especially having been only recently diagnosed. Personally I feel that the reviewer is reading far too much into this and is also putting a clinical NT spin on the whole thing. This is a fictional story on ONE PERSON in England (where the culture is very different from the US), told from a first person perspective of a single event in their life.

    This story accomplishes its goal. The fact that the author of this article is unable to see past their NT perspective and into the fact that not all autistic people think or act the same or have the same life experiences is shameful.

    As another commentator so succinctly put it: “It’s a character in a book no more. I think people can read past that. If they are reading the book they must already have a interest in autism. So I’m guessing they can read between the lines.”

    • There aren’t many books with autistic characters, and so the few that exist carry a lot of weight, especially Curious Incident, which is often recommended to people as though it were representative of autism in general. I think it’s a very bad book to recommend to people because it presents abuse toward autistic people as routine, expected, and justified. It also suggests that abuse doesn’t harm autistic people that much, and that autistic people do things to deserve abuse. I don’t want people to recommend the book because I don’t want them to think abuse toward autistic people (including me!) is ever okay.

      I also think the protagonist is also portrayed as elitist, violent, and unempathic, and I don’t like that, but that isn’t my biggest concern with the book. My biggest concern is that nobody ever suggests that abuse toward Christopher is wrong. Instead, multiple characters either justify it or let the abuse continue.

      I’m glad this book can help some autistic people understand themselves better. We don’t have nearly enough chances to see ourselves reflected in books. But there are books that don’t normalize abuse toward autistic people, and I want people to recommend those books instead.

      An interest in autism isn’t enough to make people realize that autistic people vary a lot, or that we deserve support and abuse toward us shouldn’t be overlooked. I wish it were.

      I don’t have any clinical NT spin to offer, just my own autistic pedanticism. :/

      • Althouh I do agree with you on the point that there is a lot of abuse and it isn’t ever discouraged etc. I do think that to an extent it could have something to do with Christopher not seeing it. When Siobhan asks Christopher about what happened to his face and he tells he that it doesnt matter, as you said, it appears to be the end of the issue. Although we don’t see it, we do not know if Siobhan picked up the phone and spoke to Ed the moment the lesson was over. Although the portrayal of the violence and abuse is not the nicest, it cant be too heavily scrutinised as it is from Christophers perspective and therefore possibly something he does not deem nessessary for his story or something that is not seen by him at all.
        I did like your review though, it was interesting

    • I agree with what you said here (and I also liked the book), except I don’t think that readers with no experience or knowledge about autism will be able to read between the lines. If this is being suggested as the *first* book to read on the subject, that means they won’t have much to compare it to. For that particular purpose, I’d rather pick a character who’s more broadly representative and portrayed in a way that’s easier for non-autistic people to relate to.

      That doesn’t mean that this is a bad book, and those of us who do identify with it are still free to appreciate it.

  7. I just wanted to acknowledge that I really appreciated this article – thank you for writing it. I think it’s really important, especially since this is such a well-known, well-loved book, but one that has SO MANY problematic aspects. I will be sharing it widely.

  8. Thank you for writing this review. It is most appreciated.

    To learn of the experiences (the wonderful varied experiences) of autistic people, the recommendation should be writings by autistic authors, and not just one.

    Again, thank you.

  9. I see what you are saying but one thing I liked about this book was the imperfect flawed nature of the character who I thought was treated as fully human as much as any non disabled character in the “unreliable hero” kind of story. I’d agree that it shouldn’t be used as an autism primer, but as a character I love the way Christopher is drawn. All the things you said were not there on the book I picked up somehow. Perhaps I was reading between the lines, it’s been awhile since I read it, but I suspect the clues to my interpretation were in the text, just not spelled out as they would be in literature for younger readers. It’s very clearly written to me that his family is innappropriately abusive and it’s not a morality tale that is supposed to tell us abuse is bad. It’s assumed we know the problem with abuse. In fact, it’s not at all kid lit. It stars a kid so it may mistakenly be read by kids but it’s adult literature, with complex characters and complicated motives and no need to have any kind of lesson to teach. I’m not sure why it’s reviewed here when other adult literature isn’t.

    • Disability in Kidlit


      Books for younger readers are not automatically morality tales, nor require everything to be spelled out, nor require a lesson to teach, and they often include very complex characters and complicated motives. Thus, none of those elements you mentioned would disqualify Curious Incident from being children’s literature.

      Yes, Curious Incident was marketed as adult fiction, but it’s a crossover hit that also found huge success with younger readers. Between that and the very suitable themes, writing style, and teenage protagonist, there’s more than enough cause for us to include it on our website.

      Curious Incident isn’t unique here. We’ve reviewed another similar adult/YA crossover book before: Among Others by Jo Walton.

      – Corinne

  10. I despise this book intensely, so I’m glad to see a takedown of it that is so eloquent. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash about my hatred of this book– from Goodreads reviewers who picked at me until I deleted my original review, from Amazon reviewers who labeled my review as “unhelpful” until I deleted it, from teachers at my autistic-people-only high school who thought it was “really realistic” (in hindsight, that should’ve been a HUGE red flag for me as to what I’d deal with later on), from a classmate recently (after I disclosed my diagnosis) who had the gall to say “it’s not stereotypical if it’s true” TO MY FACE… sigh. You made excellent points on everything I hated about this book, as well as the larger reasons as to why this one in particular bugs me SO much. And I actually like or love many of the other NT-written books out there with autistic narrators, even though they’ve all got some points I didn’t like all that much, so despite what some have claimed it’s not about that. I felt that, despite their issues in some areas, most of those other books were trying to render portraits of human beings. This one was just… dehumanizing, using Christopher as a prop so the audience could feel inspired whenever it wasn’t painting him as a monster with no feelings. Gross.

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  12. Christopher probably does have a co-morbidity; he is probably psychopathic. That wasn’t mentioned on the cover OR in interviews, though, much less in the book.

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  14. Thanks for this review. I was moved to reexamine my relationship with this book and how other people see it. I loved it when I was a child because I could see myself in it, though I’m now thinking at least some of that must have been me reading between the lines and putting myself in his shoes to feel his reactions – something people seem to think aspies can’t do, natch. But I now realise that others enjoyed it because of the ‘otherness’ of its perspective to theirs, and because of the sympathy they feel for his parents (!) I looked at the Goodreads five star reviews and the reviews in newspapers and they agree with your interpretation. People say things like “there are a lot of fun pleasant treatments that Christopher receives, even from his family, stuff that makes you cringe but totally bounces off Christopher because they are just words to him”. Especially disturbing now to read the rave reviews from parents of spectrum kids – wonder if they see what I saw or something else…

  15. Lord, we have to read this book for English class and i remembered reading an article on this website about it and wow, i wanted to see if the portrayal was problematic or not before starting and now i’m dreading reading it. I might send this review to my teacher when we start talking about the book in class so he can have the point of view of someone who has first hand experience with autism.

  16. I was lucky enough to read this book without knowing anything about it. I make a point of never reading descriptions on back covers or synopses anywhere. This is possible if people give me a book.

    That means I didn’t diagnose Christopher any specific medical condition. He was just himself, with a unique set of attributes that others might diagnose as they may. I found that his model of who he was and the way the world is was internally consistent. I saw the way he was treated by others who didn’t see the world the way he did as realistic. I didn’t expect this character to call out the way he was treated in any other way than he did.

    Perhaps there should be two reviews of this book. 1: How well does it describe a person with atypical conditions. 2: How the book is generally misused by some people.

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  19. marijke price on

    From the very first page I strongly believed the protagonist has aspergers. I have taught many students with this condition and yet there are at times similarities and perhaps hints of autism.

  20. Madi Holcomb on

    I remember reading this book and feeling very frustrated by the portrayal, as an autistic person who had teachers and parents talk about how accurate it was. Thank you for so eloquently writing what my thirteen year old self couldn’t.

  21. Sally-Anne Baker on

    When I was diagnosed with autism my mom gave me this book telling me the book would explain my autism. Instead it left me more confused and actually feeling very insulted.

    And actually, I was also very hurt because is that how people really viewed me…? This is not a book I’d ever recommend.

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  23. Ok I ended up starting to read this book because everyone raved about it, the show was in town, and I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I got super huge red flags on the empathy issue, and I felt that the author was negatively portraying people with autism by acting like they never have emotions and that they’re robots. So thanks for the review because I needed to check with someone who actually knows something about autism. It’s going back to the library today.

  24. thanks for writing this. i’ve got asperger’s, myself, and my mom recommended i read this book. i know she meant well, but i knew that whoever wrote this book didn’t know a goddamned thing about autism when he portrayed the main character as being so literal-minded that he couldn’t understand a religious person’s belief in heaven. he says something along the lines of “how would they ship the people there if heaven was real?”, which just sounds so literal as to be implausible. i know this wasn’t a topic you brought up in your review, but for all of my literal-mindedness, i understood the concept at age six.

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    I remember reading this before I got diagnosed and thinking “Wow, what an wonderful glance into the mind of someone with Asperger’s, they’re, like, fifteen years old but they’ve got the mind of little kid”. When I re-read it after I got diagnosed I thought “This doesn’t really feel right”. One thing that frustrates me in fiction about kids with AS is that they always make them write like a six-year-old, no matter what age they actually are. I’m younger than Christopher, and my writing skills are perfectly fine (just kidding, my computer is translating my garbled gibberish into understandable English [WOW! A SENSE OF HUMOUR! WOW! SARCASM! Who knew people with AS were capable of that?!].) . In fact, in girls, our vocabulary and writing skills can be extremely good, almost bordering on hyperlexia. I’m not sure about boys, though, but I know that most people with hyperlexia have ASD. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if you’re trying to write from our point of view, you don’t need to forget about grammar and write like a toddler. Just write like an ordinary human being, for Pete’s sake. To anyone who learned about AS from pop culture and fiction: go and meet some people with Asperger’s. You’ll find we’re surprisingly ordinary. That’s what we are, we’re human beings, not friggin’ Vulcans.

  28. I can understand why people are this critical of the novel, however we seem to be forgetting that the author didn’t do extensive research into Asperger’s etc for a reason. Christopher is a character, not just someone who has a disorder. Haddon even said “I think there is no typical person who has Asperger’s syndrome, and they’re as large and diverse a group of people as any other group in society.” which just shows that he was concentrating on the character and not a representation of people who have the disorder. This book shouldn’t be taken literally which I think is a given, seeing as its a fictional book rather than non-fiction. Recommend the book because you think it’s a good book, not because of some possible labels attached to the protagonist.

  29. Catherine King on

    I’m a student who had to read this book for class, and I have to thank you immensely for writing this article. I also have to thank everyone who has commented underneath. I am not autistic, nor am I all that familiar with what it’s like to have it. It’s very nice and helpful to hear from an actual autistic person about their opinions on Curious Incident. All I’d heard before this is how “accurate” and “educational” this book is from neurotypicals. I may not be autistic, but I have an anxiety disorder, depression, and definitely other undiagnosed mental illnesses, so I know to be wary of neurotypicals when they say media is “accurate” to some kind of neuroatypical condition.

    Throughout reading the book, I felt bothered by many things, but I was not able to pinpoint what until I found this review. I definitely knew that I did not like how Christopher interacted with his dad. His dad was abusive. I also didn’t like how apathetic Christopher was portrayed to be. It never sat right with me.
    Another thing that bothered me was the fact that Wellington’s murder was completely blown over, and Christopher was forced to interact with his father. Clearly, his father terrified him. He ran away, he held a knife, he barricaded himself in his room.

    I found many of the things Christopher said to be charming and funny (he reminds me a lot of one of my friends, who has a disability. She’s never told me what it is and I didn’t think it was polite to prod her for more information). But overall, this book is problematic, and I wish it knew it was problematic.

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  31. I honestly don’t really care that Christopher is inaccurate, I just hate that he’s so goddamned boring. The author takes all the usual stereotypes of autistic people and doesn’t add anything to them or go anywhere new with them.

    • r/FuckYouKaren on

      I do not agree with this review at all! I think this book maybe goes a little bit over the top, yes. But as someone with autism and the Asperger’s syndrome myself I loved the book. Finally a book that is almost accurate about autism! Finally some media about autism I can relate with and recognise myself! So what if the book goes over the top sometimes, it still has to stay exciting!

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