The Reinvention of Edison Thomas
Written by Jacqueline Houtman
The Reinvention of Edison Thomas has an unusual hero – the eponymous Eddy, with a head full of scientific trivia. He can tell you the Latin name of the most obscure animal or insect, explain exactly why a scientific phenomenon occurs, and the Periodic Table of Elements is a source of comfort to him in socially stressful situations. Science, Eddy gets; it’s people that are a puzzle. Why, for instance, has his best friend Mitch suddenly become so unpleasant? Who is the mystery jerk sticking silly notes to Eddy’s back and trying to get him in trouble with the school? And why is geeky little Justin Peterson so persistent in his attempts to befriend Eddy?
We are never explicitly told that Eddie has Asperger’s Syndrome ; indeed, he doesn't seem or sound all that different from other kids his age. But look again - small clues reveal to us that something sets him apart from his classmates. He needs special therapy sessions, for instance, and appreciates puns, but can never understand metaphors. He is brilliant with math and science, but can’t make eye contact with people, and hates being touched. This is a boy with absolutely no use for an apostrophe – you would never hear an “I’ll” or “won’t” when he speaks. And this is also a boy who cannot see what everyone else can - that the person he considers his best friend is a mean bully.
The story follows Eddy through the weeks following his school science fair, as he tries to cope with his disappointment at losing. Meanwhile Mitch, his former best friend has morphed into the most popular boy in school, as well as the meanest, and he seems to enjoy going out of his way to humiliate Eddy. When a traffic intersection near the school loses its crossing guard, Eddy throws all his energy into designing a device that will keep kids safe. A second project makes him realize how much he has in common with another Edison – the famed inventor himself - as well as his contemporary, the brilliant Tesla. Along comes Justin, unabashed geek and punster (and goofy Edison to Eddy's reserved Tesla) who manages to connect with our reclusive hero. Slowly, other kids begin to reach out to Eddy as well – Terry, with the blue hair and fondness for sci-fi; Kip, aspiring rock musician, even girls like Meara who have barely noticed Eddy until now. Eddy begins to change , make friends and, most importantly, stand up to Mitch.
Houtman writes well and with empathy for her young characters . By giving us Eddy’s perspective of the world, she helps us understand a small part of the great mystery that is autism. Eddy comes across as a fully realized, believable character, and I especially liked the parallels Houtman draws between Eddy and Tesla. 'Reinvention..' celebrates geekiness; it is full of science jokes and factoids, and even sends a shout out to They Might beGiants, a music group known for songs that, well, celebrate geekiness. But it is also about a child on the cusp of change, learning to push his boundaries and connect with the people around him. While I would have loved a more dramatic resolution to the sub plot about bullying, I have to say that author Houtman keeps it real – Eddy’s small gesture of rebellion is a huge symbolic victory. Of course there will be troubles ahead, and new hurdles to overcome but, as Eddy puts it, ‘..as far as (he)was concerned, he had already won.’