Susie Speider has big troubles. She suffers from A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder). Her future now lies in the cold, calloused palm of her gnarly teacher’s hand–a, one, Ms. Morlson–and Susie fears she won’t get into college. But when a small black arachnid bites her on the finger, Susie’s nights transform into fantastical adventures. The problem? Susie figures out the dreams are REAL! So, she ups the ante by visiting Morlson nightly…
…AS THE SPIDER!
(And on the back of Delilah, her pussy cat )
Through it all, Susie must come to terms with the death of her father. While Matt Ryder, the geeky neighbor boy, deals with the loss of his own mother.
This opening for Spider Brains captured my attention immediately. I was hooked. Susan Wingate has written a wonderful novel told in the first person by a high school student named Susie Speider. Susie is a wonderful girl, and Wingate has really captured the voice of adolescence. The plot is amusing and at the same time deals with some very important and difficult topics in ways that draw the reader in. As Susie tells her story, after being bitten by a small black spider, she develops the ability to turn into a spider when she is asleep. Riding on the back of her cat, Delilah, she visits the teacher who is making her life so miserable.
I feel that I really understand Susie and I like her, and I love her enthusiasm for words and their power. She has a lot to cope with. In addition to the two main issues she mentions in the opening of this novel, she also is still grieving for her father who died nearly a year earlier. A geeky boy named Matt and his father move into the house across the street and then Susie has to tutor him. Wingate supports Susie with a number of strong characters. Matt is very likeable and he, too, is coping with grief and bullying. And then there is their science teacher, Ms. Morlson, who obviously plays favorites in the worst possible way. She is every student’s worst nightmare.
The plot moves back and forth in time, but never by much and it is always clear where we are. The scenes where Susie is a spider in Ms. Morlson’s home are inspired. The grief of both Susie and her mom and Matt and his dad is handled realistically and with great compassion and empathy. The issue of privacy is approached as Susie’s mother insists on her right to read Susie’s diary when Susie starts acting strangely. Teacher-student interactions are explored so that the student’s side is heard. Finally, the use of medications and their possible side-effects also become part of the plot.
I think this is a novel that many teens would love. Universal themes are treated in a very direct and also a very humorous way. The first person voice of Susie works extremely well and we are definitely in her head throughout the entire novel. The language is distinctively hers, and she speaks directly to her reader, going so far as to tell the reader, “’Member? Please track.” This is truly a book to enjoy and savor.