It’s been 15 years since the last meeting of the Baby-Sitters Club, but that doesn’t mean that author Ann M. Martin hasn’t been writing. Since the series ended, Martin has been tackling tougher issues with her young adult novels, including dyslexia and bullying along with the standard topics of first love, school dances and sisterhood. Martin’s latest novel addresses autism. “Rain Reign” features a fifth-grade narrator with high-functioning autism.
Rain Reign’s narrator Rose Howard isn’t Martin’s first character with autism, but Howard is Martin’s very first autistic narrator. Howard obsesses over prime numbers and homonyms – which the title addresses – as well as her faithful dog, Rain. The small town where Howard lives is cast with teachers, parents, schoolmates and her single father, who all struggle to understand her autism and peculiar behavior. Through it all, Rain is by her side until a storm comes through town and the little dog is missing.
Martin has experimented with narrators before, but she found it easier to write from Howard’s point of view after she researched autism and really honed in on the character’s specific situation. In college, Martin taught several special education classes and during summers, worked with autistic children at Princeton. She notes that back then, there was no such thing as the autism spectrum, no such thing as Asperger Syndrome. Rose Howard is high functioning, which makes her more relatable to young adult readers today, who may be familiar with autism because so many kids on the autism spectrum have been mainstreamed into classrooms.
In researching the novel, Martin re-introduced herself to autism and aspberger’s treatment and the changes and developments that have occurred since her Princeton days. With high functioning autistic children more common and the language used to discuss autism changing in the last 30 years, including the removal of the term Asperger from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Martin had to delve into the latest developments to keep her newest release relevant and accurate. She observed students at in the Kingston area.
Autism is not the first controversial topic that Martin has introduced into her novels. Previously, Martin introduced a character with diabetes and has stated that through that character, Stacey, readers and doctors thanked her for bringing more attention to a topic that affected them and their families. Kids had even diagnosed themselves and were given treatment before their conditions worsened.
Martin’s series The Baby-Sitters Club became a touchstone for a generation of girls, and through continuing to publish novels that touch on current topics such as autism and super storm Sandy, she hopes to continue to be a part of girls’ lives. And though she’s entered semi-retirement, Martin has stated that she’ll continue to write and may even re-visit a few of her most beloved characters in the future – Baby-Sitters Club included.