I feel compelled to confess that when I downloaded the advance copy for this book, I looked at the cover and assumed it was going to be nonfiction, someone’s story of climbing a mountain. Imagine my surprise when I reached the title page and saw it was a novel. But it was a short book, so I decided to read it anyway.
To the Mountain by Erik Raschke has a lot of tension packed into its 176 pages.
It starts of with Marshall, a young boy in a juvenile center. Marshall’s only friend is his doll, Suzy. The other kids pick on Marshall, they don’t understand why he is different. Sometimes Marshall can’t understand the words people are saying to him. Marshall feels like two beasts live inside him: the Panic and the Fury.
Marshall’s father, Jace, conducts search and rescue missions on the mountain. He’s been fighting to get Marshall back, to bring Marshall home. Jace knows he’s far from perfect, but he also knows he’s better for Marshall than the juvenile center.
When Marshall is involved in a crash on the mountain, Jace mobilizes immediately to find him. He’s taught Marshall plenty about surviving on the mountain, but the reality is that Marshall is still a child. Marshall, meanwhile, sees this as a golden opportunity. If he can just make it to the top of the mountain, things are sure to work out.
Though Raschke doesn’t label it, Marshall’s character is learning to exist as an autistic child in a world that doesn’t understand him. Though my own experience with autism is limited, I think Raschke wrote the story in a sensitive and empowering way.
While Marshall’s parents process and cope with the challenges that come with raising an autistic child, Marshall’s character isn’t portrayed as incapable. Marshall knows what he needs to do to survive on the mountain. He shows skill and an ability to rationalize the situation that is certainly beyond his years.
I will confess to having a few more questions than answers at the end of the book (which, disclaimer, does not have a perfect, fairy tale ending. So if you like things wrapped up neatly with a bow, this may not be the book for you). Raschke mentioned a few things in passing that were never addressed but that I’m really curious about.
All in all, Raschke’s story is quick and compelling. He provides a snapshot into the mind and experience of an autistic child, and I think that’s incredibly important, both for children and for adults. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, but I’m glad I read it anyway. Keep an eye out for it this month, it’s worth the couple days it’ll take you to read it.