Book Pairings for Stuck in Neutral
Stuck in Neutral is about a boy, Shawn, who has Cerebral Palsy. He cannot control his muscles or talk, but he understands the world and is very smart. Shawn loves his family and learning and school and experiences all the teenage emotions just like everyone else. The story is fictional, but it is based on the experiences and feelings the author, Terry Trueman, had while raising his own son, who is very similar to Shawn. Despite his CP, Shawn loves his life, wants to live, and has a sense of humor. The plot of Stuck in Neutral is driven by the conflict between Shawn and his father: Shawn wants to live, but his father wonders if he would be better off dead.
Laughing at my Nightmare, by Shane Burcaw, is nonfiction, but right away I was struck by how similar Burcaw’s voice is to Shawn’s. Burcaw has Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and it is degenerative: his muscles get weaker and atrophy as he gets older. In the book, Burcaw writes about his life growing up, his family, being a teen, and trying to figure out life after high school. He has the same love of life as Shawn, but it’s all the better since it’s nonfiction.
I have not used this book in the classroom yet, but if I ever taught freshmen again, I would teach Stuck in Neutral as the class text, and then assign Laughing at my Nightmare as homework or extension reading. In class, we could have discussions comparing and contrasting the two. I could also have kids complete journals where they explore ideas that came up in both stories. Another idea would be to pitch Laughing at my Nightmare as an independent reading option. Lastly, if I had a group of strong enough readers and a few more books options, I could run a literature circle unit.
Let me know if you have ever used Laughing at my Nightmare in the classroom. I think it would be a great fit for many 9-12 classrooms. Kids younger than that would be able to read it, but due to some sexual content, if may be better for high school. I plan on sharing a summary of the book with some of my classes this week to see if any of my students would like to read it independently, and I’ll keep you updated. I will also try to add to this blog as I find more books that I feel strongly connect to Stuck in Neutral.