Ann M. Martin

A Corner Of The Universe

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A Corner Of The Universe Summary

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A Corner of The Universe (2002), by young adult author, Ann M. Martin, follows an 11-year-old girl as she meets her funny, compassionate, yet intellectually disabled uncle for the first time. It was a Newberry Honor Book.

Themes in A Corner of the Universe include the loss of innocence, the necessity of tolerance, and the revitalizing power of love.

In a preface, the novel opens as Hattie Owen, now a young woman, looks back at the events that shaped her life when she was a young girl. She is watching a series of old family videos. One wedding video from 1960 is of special importance to her. It’s from the summer that Hattie was 11, going on 12. This is the last video to show her uncle, Adam Mercer.

Adam, for unspecified reasons, has had such a significant impact on Hattie’s life that she feels she can divide her memories into Before Adam and After Adam. Adam is an emotionally volatile young man who appears to be on the autism spectrum. In the video, Adam refuses to smile for the camera; he never liked the performance aspect of being filmed. Hattie rewatches the movie to feel closer to Adam.

The novel then switches to present tense, and is narrated by a prepubescent Hattie, who lives in the small town of Millerton, Pennsylvania. Excited for the start of the summer, she’s the first person to wake up in the large house, which doubles as a bed and breakfast run by her family. Hattie enjoys meeting the peculiar characters who check in and out of the family’s hotel through the summer. There is Mr. Penny, who used to own a clock repair shop, and Miss Hagerty, an old spinster whose breakfast Hattie prepares and brings to her room.

Hattie also enjoys the summer because, free from school, she can spend hours watching her father paint abstract art; visit Fred Carmel’s Funtime Carnival to see a bearded lady; and read until her brain gets soft and fuzzy.

One day, her mother divulges to Hattie that she actually has another brother. His name is Adam. Adam is 16 years younger than Hattie’s mother, and the two were never that close. Hattie learns that Adam has been living at a “school” since he was 12. With great hesitation, Hattie’s mother explains that Adam has been living at a “special” school that’s equipped to deal with his particular set of behavioral issues. The family is only telling Hattie about Adam because his high school has closed, and he will have to live with Nana and Papa, her grandmother and grandmother who live nearby. Hattie senses that there will be plenty of conflict between an ill-behaved Adam and her grandparents, who are sticklers for social propriety; Nana is a board member for Cotillion dances.

Hattie’s grandfather picks Adam up from Cincinnati, Ohio. When Hattie first meets him she is amazed by how quickly he speaks. She soon bonds with Adam. She appreciates how he really listens to her about her birthday plans, and doesn’t try to manipulate her for personal gain.

During a dinner with her grandparents, Hattie watches Adam act abnormally in front of his parents. He purposefully sticks his nose up at their social customs, and at one point, bangs the table before suddenly leaving the room. Adam often receives negative treatment from those around him: his own parents are embarrassed by him and Hattie’s peers end up mocking him.

One day, Hattie meets Leila, the daughter of Fred Carmel, the carnival owner. Hattie befriends Leila after Adam comments that it’s no way that a fun person like Hattie has only one friend; but it’s the truth – her name is Betsy. As a result of Adam’s encouragement, Hattie approaches Leila and the two start hanging out.

Hattie invites her uncle to the carnival. They bond through all the games they play and rides they go on. At one point, Adam says that Hattie is a special girl “who can lift the corners of our universe” to understand him. Unlike most adults, Hattie has the ability to see and say what’s truly important in the world, as well as to accept people as they are.

Unfortunately, one day Adam has a panic attack on the Ferris wheel at the carnival. It leads him to think that no one can understand him and that he’s going to be trapped forever with a frantic mind that cannot express itself. The Ferris wheel episode leads to a period of self-doubt for Adam.

Boarders come and go at the Owen’s bed and breakfast. One pair that stays is a mother and her son; the woman’s husband recently died and she is forced to stay at the B&B while she looks for employment.

Hattie loves hanging around Adam and learning more about him. His knowledge of I Love Lucy is astounding. He also has a frightfully good memory for daily details: he knows almost everything that happened on any given weekday.

But tragically, Adam commits suicide in Nana’s shed.

Adam’s decision to end his own life makes everyone reexamine their lives. Most come to the conclusion that they weren’t there for Adam to the degree they needed to be. Adam felt isolated and terribly lonely; no one seemed to provide the support he needed to stay alive.

At the funeral, Hattie conquers her fear of public speaking to give a stirring eulogy for Adam. She emphasizes the fact that he was a beautiful human being and exhorts people to treat each other better.