One thing I really enjoyed about being an English Major is listening to everyone’s different perspective on something. If someone was able to back up their interpretation with texts from the novel or story, I always respected their interpretation. I feel that the way we read things is largely based on our background and experiences, as well as whatever is going on in your current sphere at that moment in time. This is never more apparent as when I reread a book.
I recently reread a childhood favorite, The Girl with the Silver Eyes. To give you a bit of an idea of the story, Katie is a young girl with actual silver eyes and the power of telekinesis. After her parents divorced when she was three, she went to live with her paternal grandmother for six years.
When her grandmother passes away, she goes back to living with her mother in an apartment complex. There she begins to wonder if there are other children like her, with similar eyes and abilities and sets out to find them.
This is a really simplistic synopsis of the book; but I wanted to give a general overview of it before diving too deep into an analysis. And I will admit I approached this reread with some hesitation. There is an inherent risk to re-reading a childhood favorite. As has been discussed before, not every book holds up to the rest of time. I’m sure most would prefer to keep their warm, fuzzy childhood memories that way. It fit the criteria for a challenge I am doing, and so I went ahead with the reread. And it still held a fair amount of magic for me.
There were a few problem parts, such as the casual use of the r-word at one point. There’s also a very watered down version of what happens to Black children in small town America even today. Overall, though it is still an engaging story. I did read it much differently than I did when I was younger. At that age, I felt like Katie, ostracized by my peers and called a weirdo. I still feel that way but I’ve pretty much become comfortable with myself and have embraced my weirdness.
When I read it this last time, I went into it with the mindset of Katie as a metaphor for someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since the ’80s, there has been substantial progress has been made into defining what ASD is. However, that is much too much to go into a lot of detail here.
One thing that can be stated is that it’s been recognized that there isn’t really a textbook template for someone with ASD. When my son was diagnosed with it at his school, his teacher called him an ‘odd case’. He had some of the textbook signs of a child with Autism, such as his sensitivity to sound. However, unlike some others with Autism, he was highly empathetic and knew how to show that emotion to his classmates.
As humans we tend to read things through the lenses of our own world; so it stands to reason that with a son who is on the Spectrum that is where my brain would go. However, there are multiple parallels that line up almost perfectly. This is not just limited to Katie herself but extends to the people surround her and how they treat her.
It’s mentioned numerous times that Katie’s face is mostly expressionless and how odd that is. In a conversation with Nathan, her boyfriend, her mother Monica mentions that she was perplexed by the fact that she never cried as a baby; not even when she was stuck by a pin (p. 45). A lot of people on the Spectrum are this way; they don’t necessarily emotionally react in the visible way the rest of society would in most situations. While the not crying is her not feeling moved to, sometimes the lack of expression on her face is intentional, due to knowing how uncomfortable it makes others feel. She knows that she should have more of a reaction; but she just doesn’t feel she has to since it’s not an automatic thing for her.
Then there’s her level of intelligence. Monica states that she taught herself to read at age 3 (p. 47), which made her stand out among her peers. Most people on the Spectrum tend to show high intelligence in a specific area while simultaneously having trouble picking up on social cues. One of the reasons that Katie is apart from her peers is because of her hyper intelligence, and is not engaging or playing the way the others do. She didn’t like playing softball due to her glasses breaking after she got hit in the face in kindergarten. And who could really blame her for that? So she learned to will the ball to move away from her (p. 13), which ruined the game but kept her glasses intact.
Speaking of her glasses, there is the titular fact that she has silver eyes. While most people on the Spectrum don’t have such an obvious ‘tell’, some people can tell after observing someone for a bit that they are not neurologically typical, or NT. Honestly because of the eyes, Katie has the deck stacked against her from the start since most narrow minded people give her the cold shoulder once they notice it, such as the villainous Mr. P.
While cliched at some points, he is a fairly accurate representation of how people can be towards others who don’t fit the ‘cultural norm’ of how someone should look or act. Katie and Mr. P. have an abrasive relationship after she accidentally walks on some work related papers and he notices her eyes. Since that moment he had her placed firmly in a box of different, and therefore dangerous.
He is constantly against Katie with comments about how she’s “such a menace to the neighborhood” (p. 148) and “there ought to be a law against [a kid] like that” (p. 197). True, Katie didn’t try to make the relationship easier by marking him for her pranks. These included making the rock hit his ankle (p. 4), forcing him to pay the paperboy Jackson Jones (p. 75), and the accidental soaking of his shoes (p. 28).
However, as the story progresses we find that Mr. P. has a hatred of anything that wasn’t ‘normal’. Jackson Jones has two different colored eyes, and this oddity makes him a target for Mr. P’s disdain—it isn’t just that he wants to duck out on his newspaper bill.
Overall, Katie was just different and it was obvious that she was. So not many people knew how to approach her. They just treated her an oddity. Funnily enough, with the exception of Mr. C and her mother to some extent, there were only two other adults who didn’t treat Katie as a pariah. But, there will be more on that later. For now, let’s move to Katie’s mom.
I also had a completely different view of Monica, Katie’s mom, on this reread. When I read this as a younger me, I really didn’t pay her much mind, to be honest. She wasn’t the focal point of the story; Katie was the one who I emphasized with. While that still held true for the most part, I found myself slightly more sympathetic towards Monica.
She wasn’t sure how to be a parent at all; and while it’s true that no one really knows how to, Katie’s uniqueness made it especially difficult. She didn’t know how to handle her after the divorce, which is how Katie ended up with her paternal grandmother. When Katie and Monica were put in a position to live together once again, it was a learning curve for them both.
While Monica didn’t know how to mother Katie, she tried. She warned Katie against playing on the balcony. Katie couldn’t go swimming without a known adult there. After Katie returned home after running away, Monica was naturally relieved to see her. Ultimately, Monica wanted what was best for her daughter and to provide her with a loving home. This is evident in the statement she made towards the very end of the book:
“‘Katie’s right. Children—at least young children—need to have a normal family life, don’t they? Even if they are…special. They need to know their parents and brothers and sisters, don’t they? And they need to be able to relate to other people, the people they’ll eventually have to live with and deal with, unless they’re going to be isolated from the rest of society forever. That’s not what we want, is it?’” (p. 192)
As a child, I never understood why Monica left Katie with her grandmother. To be fair, that was due to reading it as a child and living the experience of someone who at the time was living with extended family members due to the passing of my mother. It was only one year, but I felt Katie’s pain. I still feel it as an adult, but I also understood Monica’s point of view. She was divorced from Katie’s father. From the glimpses of personality we got about him he was little to no help. Monica didn’t have her own friends or family. It would be exceedingly hard to take care of a child on your own in those circumstances, and rather than struggle together, she left Katie where she had a stable home life.
Naysayers may counter that she only took Katie after the grandmother died. There is some truth in that. However, she also did what she had to do to make it work. And she wasn’t willing to ship Katie off to the school at the end. She picked up on her daughter’s apprehension and had the argument quoted above.
She wanted to know how to best support Katie once it was confirmed how she was special. After living apart for six years, she wanted her daughter to stay with her so they could learn about each other. If she didn’t want her daughter, she would have jumped at that opportunity to send her somewhere else again. Monica genuinely cared about her daughter; she wanted to keep her and wanted what was best for her.
These characters are really two sides of the same coin. Since we’re viewing both through Katie’s eyes, it does at first color our opinion on them. Young me was likewise as disgusted as Katie with Nathan, Monica’s boyfriend. It wasn’t just the smoking or the constant referral to Katie as ‘kid’ that did it, although that didn’t help. Katie, like most children from divorced homes, has a slim hope that her parents would get back together.
Nathan didn’t treat Katie any differently than he would have if her eyes had been a normal color. And that is something that didn’t strike me until this last reread. He spoke to her like he would any other child. And while that might seem like a small thing, for someone who is on the Spectrum it’s a big thing. Most people who are on the Spectrum are aware that they are and they don’t like being treated differently or less then. Nathan treated Katie like she was a ‘normal’ kid.
He mentioned the odd eye color to Monica once when he thought Katie was out of earshot. He theorized the reason for Katie was different. This is what prompts her to reach out to the other children. He was there for Monica when Katie went missing.
That may not seem like much but it is. At that point in the story, though, Monica and Nathan had had a huge fight which left the status of their relationship up in the air. So, it takes on a deeper meaning. He wanted to make sure she was okay when she returned. Yes, he is still completely a small doses person for me. But he’s not a bad guy. If we had read more of Katie’s story as she grew up, he likely would have grown to be one of her biggest defenders.
Then there’s Mrs. M., who I adored as a child and still do as an adult. When Katie told her Lobo the cat was hurting, she believed her. She didn’t scoff when she heard Katie could talk to the cat. When she saw Katie move something, she was jealous as opposed to scared.
When Katie questioned why she seemed okay with it, Mrs. M. told her about her brother who had a birthmark on his face. This made him a target for bullying. She then went on to make this poignant statement about people: “…and maybe that’s it; they don’t anyone to be better, or smarter, or more powerful in any way. They’re afraid of people who are different, so they make fun of them. Attack them. It’s foolish, but it’s the way people are.”(p. 67). This statement is still true today.
Mrs. M. was a wise old woman and she calls this out when she says, “The more you see…the more you learn to accept things.” (p. 70 – 71). She knew that she didn’t know everything. But she had also seen a lot of ‘impossible’ things happen in her lifetime. And as such she was more willing to accept things she didn’t understand and accept people as they are.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this 1980s book. I could be projecting too much of my own life and experiences with my son here. Maybe it’s just intended to be a fun sci-fi story about a girl with silver eyes who can move things with her mind. However, the analyst in me valiantly fights against that sentiment. To bare a bit of my soul here, I sometimes feel that I am also somewhere on the Spectrum.
Looking back at my childhood and how I interacted with my peers, I believe that were I that age now, that I would get some kind of label affixed to me. And that’s not to say that’s a bad thing. I’m aware of my ‘quirks’ and I usually warn people ahead of time.
Most children’s authors try to tell a bigger story, in a way that their intended audience can understand. I think this book could help to teach tolerance and understanding of people who may not be like you. As Monica stated, we are all still human beings and all have the right to belong.