Title: A Corner of the Universe
Author: Ann M. Martin
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 224
Holy cow! This book is middle grade but it’s actually really emotionally heavy. It’s hard to believe this is by the same writer who did The Babysitter’s Club series (which I devoured as a kid.) This and Rain Reign prove that Ann M. Martin really is a good writer.
A Corner in the Universe is set in a small town in the 1950’s. Twelve-year-old Hattie is shy and introspective, preferring to spend time with the inhabitants of her parents’ boarding house than her own peers. One fateful day Hattie discovers she has an uncle she didn’t know existed, who has an ambiguous mental health condition and has spent most of his life in an institution.
Now the institution is closing and Uncle Adam is coming home for a while until they figure out where to put him. After spending some time with him, Hattie feels a kind of kinship with Adam, a hyperactive man-child and I Love Lucy superfan (I feel like the book could have elaborated a little more on why Hattie identified with him so much, besides her feelings of being an outcast and not being able to socialize with others.)
The friendship between the two misfits ends tragically and Hattie’s family is changed forever. What could have easily been a typical ‘mentally ill person imparts life lessons’ story ultimately feels much deeper, with a refreshing lack of sentimentality. Adam is a sympathetic character with darker undercurrents, and something about him always made me feel on edge. You come to understand why Hattie grows close to him, despite the two of them not seeming to have much in common.
A Corner of the Universe is a heartbreakingly sad portrait of how mentally ill people have been treated historically, locked up and essentially disowned by their families. Maybe Adam should have stayed in an institution but he still deserved the acknowledgement of his loved ones. You get the sense that the events in the book could have been easily avoided and I was put through the emotional wringer, knowing what was going to happen but not knowing how rough it was going to be.