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HOOKED ON BOOKS: Books entertain while exploring disabilities

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'The Gravedigger's Cottage'

Chris Lynch is a very prolific author for young adults, with many books handling issues relating to troubled youth. In this book, he depicts a single-parent family possibly struggling with mental illness.

Sylvia, her little brother, Walter, and their twice-widowed dad move into a quaint, seaside cottage that local lore links with death. Sylvia doesn't stand for that nonsense, though she does have a history of burying beloved pets in the yard. She and Walter only worry when their dad starts acting lost.

This is a heartwarming, sometimes funny tale with appealing characters and a touch of spookiness. Unfortunately, it makes a sharp course change part-way through, and I think it could have handled the mental health issue more honestly. I sensed that the author let himself out by a side door when the story started to get too hard. Considering the type of book he is known for writing, I find that surprising.

'Stronger'

Jeff Bauman was standing near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013 when two backpack bombs detonated in the crowd, killing three people and wounding more than 200. Moments later, he was captured in an iconic photo of three people rushing a wounded man to an ambulance. Bauman was the man in the wheelchair, both his legs blown off above the knee.

That image launched Bauman into a dizzying whirl of fame, pain and gruelling effort that partly inspired the slogan "Boston Strong." This book is a memoir of the following weeks, when he unwittingly became an inspiration to millions.

Bauman's survival and recovery, his role in catching the bombers and his struggle with sudden fame make a gripping, true-to-life story. While reading it, I often felt choked up, sniffly and occasionally indignant on Jeff's behalf.

If you like a moving story about an ordinary guy who fought towering odds and prevailed, I recommend this book. I do not, however, recommend the movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, which replaces all those noble emotions with depression and disappointment.

'Rain Reign'

Rose is a high-functioning, autistic fifth grader who lives alone with her dad and a dog named Rain. Coping with unpredictable noise and movement is always difficult for her, but it gets really hard when a hurricane traps Rose and her father in their yard and changes the landscape around them. Worse yet, Rain disappears in the rain.

During the days that follow, the tension between Rose and her dad builds to a bursting point. Meantime, her search for Rain brings Rose closer to her schoolmates, who used to treat her like a freak. It forces her to step outside her safety zone, aided by an uncle whose protectiveness is touching.

Rose's feelings register in the reader's heart. What happens after she finds Rain is downright heart-wringing.

Written by another incredibly prolific children's author, this book is about a search for a loving family and for common ground with people who process reality differently. It joins Gennifer Choldenko's "Moose Flanagan" series on my list of books to recommend to people interested in fiction about autism.

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