Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Man Who Loved Clowns

By June Rae Wood,
Putnam, 1992

13-year-old Delrita loves the uncle who shares her parents' home, but chooses to avoid developing friendships out of fear that people will make fun of him. Uncle Punky, you see, has Down Syndrome. As a result, his appearance is different from that of "normal" people, and he has some behaviours that are unusual for a 35-year-old man. For one thing, he absolutely adores clowns. He is also extremely patriotic, has a habit of chucking chicken bones behind the television set, and shouts "bang!" when anyone says "amen."

Delrita's parents have moved the family from a more rural setting to a larger town in hopes that Delrita will be able to connect with more young people her age, but Delrita is still reluctant to make friends with anyone. A budding friendship with Avanelle, who has her own secrets, is thwarted by misunderstanding.

When a tragic accident orphans Delrita, she and Uncle Punky go to live with another Aunt and Uncle. Already experiencing the anger that comes from grief, Delrita is further enraged by Aunt Queenie's strict clean-freak ways, and by Queenie's desire that Punky get a job at the local warehouse, where other people with Down have found meaningful employment. Another blow strikes when Punky is hospitalized due to a congenital heart condition. Will Delrita's life be beset by another tragedy?

This book gives a realistic glimpse into the lives of families where one person has Down Syndrome. Wood's brother had Down, so she brings real insight to the subject, allowing the reader to see that such people have much to teach us. She also tells a compelling story of friendship and loss.

Make sure you have tissues close at hand.

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