Tweens Read August is a 14 day event taking place for the first two weeks of August. I’ll be hosting authors, regardless of debut year, whose books I’m the most excited for. Each day, I’ll announce who the next author is at the end of the post. There’s also a giveaway going on, so be sure to check that out!
It’s the seventh day of Tweens Read August, and today, James R. Hannibal is here to talk to us about the unique superpowers in his MG mystery/adventure The Lost Property Office!
Here’s a little bit about it:
Release Date: November 8th, 2016
Series: Section 13 #1
James R. Hannibal presents a thrilling adventure through history, complete with mysteries, secret items, codes, and a touch of magic in this stunning middle grade debut.
Thirteen-year-old Jack Buckles is great at finding things. Not just a missing glove or the other sock, but things normal people have long given up on ever seeing again. If only he could find his father, who has disappeared in London without a trace.
But Jack’s father was not who he claimed to be. It turns out that he was a member of a secret society of detectives that has served the crown for centuries—and membership into the Lost Property Office is Jack’s inheritance.
Now the only way Jack will ever see his father again is if he finds what the nefarious Clockmaker is after: the Ember, which holds a secret that has been kept since the Great Fire of London. Will Jack be able to find the Ember and save his father, or will his talent for finding things fall short?
Description taken from Goodreads.
Birth Defects and Superheroes
Maybe you’ve seen The Lost Property Office already, even though it doesn’t come out until November. I hope you have.
Big black cover.
Enormous clockwork beetle.
You can’t miss it.
The story opens a new series of London-based adventures filled with mystery and magic, science and history, secret societies and stern-faced old spinsters—elements of plot and milieu that were loads of fun to write. But it is the character of Jack and the way he sees the world that are most important to me. I want Jack’s experience to open up a conversation.
Thirteen-year- old Jack Buckles is a new take on the Holmesian, hyper-observant detective. Jack has a “birth defect” known as synesthesia, although you’ll never see the word in the book. He doesn’t know he has it, much like thousands of kids today who don’t know they are “synesthetes,” and are thus misdiagnosed as unfocused, or even ADD.
Synesthesia is a lack of walls between the senses. For a synesthete, sounds, smells, or pain may invoke colors and textures. Other synesthetes might hear whooshes and clacks while seeing movement or flashes of light. There are several varieties, and many synesthetes only experience one pair of crossed senses. Some of us, however, are cross wired through and through. I am a synesthete. Did I mention that? My synesthesia is debilitating at times, empowering at others. It has sent me running from my mother’s kitchen and helped me catch a terrorist. It has made me feel powerless and afraid and helped me put a bullet through a target from two miles away.
Knowledge shifts that balance.
To give you an idea why it is critical to identify child synesthetes early, let’s take a look at a well-known kid who might also have been considered “different.”
Imagine you are young Clark Kent. You have no idea why you struggle so hard to fit in. The other children at Smallville Elementary seem to have no trouble keeping their feet on the ground.
Their pencils never snap in their hands like yours do. Their deskwork never spontaneously combusts.
Maybe they’re all just smarter than you are.
When you finally get up enough courage to ask another boy how he manages to open every door without ripping the knob off, he stares back at you like you’re crazy. Word spreads. Soon the other kids are pointing and giggling when you walk by.
The teachers aren’t much better—yours especially. “Oh, I love little Clark,” Ms. Moore tells your mom in a voice that says she really doesn’t. “But he’s always bouncing off the walls. I have to pull him down off the ceiling twice a day. I have to literally pull him down. If he doesn’t quit leaping the language annex in a single bound, I might have to put him in the special class.”
The special class?
The coach likes you, though—as much good as that does.
“Who? Kent? Sure, he’s a space cadet. Head in the clouds all the time. But you should see him boot that kickball. I don’t care what they say about him. Kid’s gotta future.”
Future? What future? You’re going to be the kickball star from the special class. Great.
Now see yourself as a child with synesthesia:
You do your best to concentrate on the lesson but a bird chirps outside the window. Pinkish- white spikes fly across your vision. You can’t suppress them. Nor can you suppress the feeling that Ms. Moore is watching you.
How do all the other kids ignore the spikes? You can’t take Ms. Moore’s stink-eye anymore. You look down at your hands, willing the bird to shut up, then glance up again. Ms. Moore is still locked on. She’s waiting for you to crack.
A moment later, old Mr. Guthrie fires up his vintage lawnmower outside. It growls and coughs as it gobbles up the grass, and your battle for focus is over.
Resistance is futile.
A few others are distracted by the mower, too, but your brain is completely taken over. A bumpy gray mass with rust-colored rods poking out of it closes around you. You’re not imagining things. The mass is there—unsolicited, uncontrolled—you can feel it thumping your head and shoulders.
Ms. Moore sees you hunkering down and moves in for the kill. You barely process the question. You wouldn’t know the answer anyway. Margie Wutherford does. Her hand shoots up, making you look as stupid as you feel. How does she do it? How does she ignore Mr. Guthrie’s killer blob?
Life isn’t all bad. You’re absolutely brilliant at math and memorization. Letters, numbers, and dates have colors and textures that never change. They fly around your head in purple wisps and gold ribbons. You max every test—assuming you did the reading. You don’t understand why the other kids can’t do the same thing, but you don’t ask, not after what happened in fifth grade. You told Margie about the dates spent last spring as crazy-pink- January boy.
Memorization isn’t your only skill. The school nurse says you’re some sort of audio-prodigy. Your hearing is off the charts. Really? How could anyone miss those pink, brown, and blue blobs. You don’t have to hear the tones. You can see them. It doesn’t matter. The nurse doesn’t like you despite your super hearing. You’ve been in her office three times in three days this week alone for throwing up in the lunchroom. “You’re not sick,” she tells you. “If you keep making yourself vomit, you’re going to do permanent damage.”
You’re not making yourself do anything. Peas and onions have been on the menu all week. To smell them is to wade through slimy black mush. You can’t tell that to the nurse. Or your teacher. You heard Ms. Moore. Any more screw-ups and they’ll put you in that special class.
This was very much my life as an undiagnosed child synesthete. And this was very much Jack’s life before he came to London in search of his father—before he discovered his gift had a name.
By the way, that name is not synesthesia, not in my world.
Jack isn’t deficient. He doesn’t have an underdeveloped brain. Jack Buckles is a tracker.
Child synesthetes can have a birth defect, or they can be super heroes. Let’s start the conversation. Let’s give them the choice.
Addendum: We (the publisher and I) just received an advance review from a respected journal that illustrates my point. In the review, amid some nice compliments, the librarian/reviewer diagnoses Jack as “exhibiting behaviors on the autistic spectrum” even though autism is never mentioned and synesthesia is explained right there on the back cover. This innocent and well-intentioned mistake is a prime example of why this book is necessary, and why we need to talk about children and synesthesia in this country.
About the Author
James R. Hannibal is the author of the 2016 BEA Buzz Book The Lost Property Office, a middle grade mystery/adventure coming from Simon and Schuster Young Readers November 8. As a former stealth bomber pilot and drone pilot James has been shot at, locked up by a surface to air missile system, and aided the capture of High Value Targets. He is also the Thriller Award nominated author of the Nick Baron series from Berkley Books.
Thanks to James for being a part of Tweens Read August and doing this guest post! It was definitely thought provoking, and it made me think about the way I consider disabilities and superpowers in books and other media. Enter the giveaway above to enter an ARC of The Lost Property Office, a $25 bookstore giftcard, and other awesome swag, and be sure to add The Lost Property Office to Goodreads! You can also pick it up from stores on November 8th, 2016. The author being featured tomorrow is Brooks Benjamin!