It’s the early 1980s. You’re 12 or 13 years old, a little small for your age, but there’s a world out there that desperately needs exploring. Like the old, decaying mansion where the murders happened. The new video arcade getting ready to open. And the treehouse you find, the one with the dirty magazines.
Abel Velasco is that 12- or 13-year-old, but his has not been a normal childhood. A mother institutionalized for the effects of drug abuse. A father who disappeared when he was a baby. An uncle who took him in but died in a freak accident. A series of foster homes, until finally he lands with his father’s sister, the one Abel calls Aunt Pigpie (and he’s being charitable). She’s abusive, although Abel avoids her wrath with a mention of a sale of junk food at the grocery store.
There’s one additional thing you should know about Abel. He has a form of autism. It manifests itself in his behavior – he has a photographic memory, can’t bear to be touched, likes and dislikes all kinds of smells and tastes, and sees number patterns everywhere. He loves the works of the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes. And he is as up-to-date on mathematical theory as any university professor in America.
Abel is the hero of A Whole Lot, the first novel by author Bradley Wind. It’s a story that pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go.
It’s a coming-of-age novel, yes, but it’s unlike any coming-of-age novel I’ve ever read. Wind has drawn characters – children and adults alike – who are recognizable and familiar (well, almost; I never knew an aunt like Aunt Pigpie). The characters often seem a New Jersey version of the people we find in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.
Wind is an artist and writer, a native Pennsylvanian. He’s worked as a toy designer for K’nex Industries and as an IT manager for Pearl S. Buck International. He’s currently the director of a child-focused non-profit organization.
What he’s done with Abel is something extraordinary, for we find ourselves inside of a mind that is brilliant and simultaneously normal and abnormal. And all the time the story has a backdrop of numbers, numbers theory, and mathematical patterns, because that is how Abel thinks and functions. And it is how Abel survives.
A Whole Lot is funny, moving, provocative, disturbing, suspenseful – and ultimately satisfying.
Top photograph by Ian L via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.