Autumn and Adonis have nothing in common and everything in common. Autumn is outgoing and has lots of friends. Adonis is shy and not so eager to connect with people. But even with their differences, the two have one thing in common–they’re each dealing with a handicap. For Autumn, who has a learning disability, reading is a painful struggle that makes it hard to focus in
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Told from alternative viewpoints, Sharon Flake’s new novel explores the relationship between high school students Adonis and Autumn. Due to a birth defect, Adonis was born without legs and is wheelchair-bound. He compensates for his physical disabilities by striving for academic perfection; he is much more interested in receiving praise and admiration from his teachers than forming relationships with his peers. On the other end of the spectrum is Autumn, a weak student with an enormous personali
Pinned does an excellent job of showing the powerful role family background plays in shaping a child’s opportunities and values. Adonis’s mother is an educated woman who has taught her son the importance of doing well at school. Her efforts to prove to her son that he can accomplish anything have resulted though in Adonis’s cocky over self-confidence. Autumn’s parents are both high school dropouts who can barely read. Only recently have they come to terms with their daughter’s academic troubles. Not wanting her to follow the same path they feel they were forced down, they try to practice reading together as a family. Unfortunately, the damage is already done and Autumn despises reading so much that she is very reluctant to try to improve.
Though her novel has some strengths, Flake’s message about relationships is deeply disturbing. Pinned shows young readers if you pursue something hard and long enough, eventually you will get what you want, even in relationships. Autumn stalks Adonis throughout the novel. She sends him endless text messages, follows him through the halls, sits in his lap, and kisses him without his consent. The reader is supposed to believe that this is okay because deep, deep down (so deep he doesn’t consciously know it) Adonis wants Autumn’s affection. Imagine if the genders were reversed in this novel. A strong, muscular boy on the wrestling team relentlessly pursing and forcing himself upon a crippled girl? Autumn’s friends and family would be seeking a restraining order. Autumn’s acceptance of Adonis’s behavior towards her is also unsettling. She is seen as a pure, loyal character because she accepts his constant rebukes. Adonis belittles and insults Autumn at every turn, but that has little effect on her feelings towards him. Though Adonis and Autumn change the way they feel towards each other, they don’t apologize for their behavior.
I loved Flake’s novel The Skin I’m In and I had high hopes for Pinned. Though I liked the way Flake portrayed the academic issues that many students, particularly African American students, face, her depiction of adolescent romance left me feeling deeply disappointed.