Stuck In Neutral Summary and Study Guide

Terry Trueman

Stuck In Neutral

  • 47-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 16 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Stuck In Neutral Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 47-page guide for “Stuck in Neutral” by Terry Trueman includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 16 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Importance of Communication and The Interplay between Control and Freedom.

Plot Summary

Stuck in Neutral is a young adult (YA) fiction novel about Shawn McDaniel, a fourteen-year-old boy with cerebral palsy. To the outside world, Shawn is in a kind of vegetative state: his condition makes it so that he has no control over any of his motor function, from moving his lips to evacuating his bowels. Shawn cannot communicate with the outside world, and so people—including his family members—believe him to have the brain function and abilities of a three-month-old child. However, Shawn is actually highly intelligent, remembering every sight, sound, memory and dream he’s ever encountered or experienced. In short, Shawn has a perfect memory with total recall, which he knows makes him unique.

Although he has perfect memory, he can only see and read things that his eyes randomly focus on. He has no ability to control his eyesight, or any other of his motor functions, and so his knowledge of events or history is spotty at times. Similarly, Shawn also suffers from seizures, which render him unconscious to the world around him. He describes these seizures as out-of-body experiences; although he is not able to understand what is going on around him, he thinks his soul leaves his body at these points, and he is able to fly around the world and do things he cannot otherwise do. Shawn’s seizures provide him the only means of escaping his condition, and he very much enjoys these times.

Unfortunately, the outside world does not know any of this, or really anything about Shawn, as he is entirely without any means of communication. In fact, Shawn’s estranged father, a famous poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for his writing about Shawn, believes that Shawn’s seizures cause him immense pain and that Shawn might be better off if he were dead. Shawn’s father cannot stand not knowing whether his son is a genius or an idiot, and most of the tension in this story relies upon dramatic irony: the audience and Shawn know how intelligent he is, but to the rest of the world, Shawn is perceived as vegetative. Similarly, the conflict in the story concerns the question of whether Shawn’s father will kill him, which Shawn hopes will not happen.

The narrative is told entirely from the point of view of Shawn so that the audience is in Shawn’s head, a part of his thoughts; however, this also subjects the audience to only know what Shawn knows, thereby limiting the readers. The readers are subjected to the same fragmented experiences that Shawn must endure, as the readers only experience what Shan experiences. However, this means that the readers also understand what Shawn’s seizures are like, and experience Shawn’s dreams and reliving his memories. In this way, the line between what is reality and the world of dreams and seizures is blurred, as is the idea of chronological time. Shawn’s perception of reality and the audience’s understanding of events only extend as far as Shawn’s experiences; as such, the audience receives a very subjective view of both Shawn’s life and the narrative events, with large pieces of the narrative effectively missing. However, this helps the audience empathize with Shawn, as the narrative could not be told any other way.

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Chapters 1-3