On a scale of one to five stars, this is a six.
Heidi Cullinan has done a masterful job of capturing the thoughts and lives of of two young men with difficult-to-comprehend conditions. Emmet is an ultra-high-functioning autistic. His memory is near-eiditic, his skills in understanding the real issues involved in a problem are astounding. Unlike neurotypicals, he can't read faces or body language, nor pick up on cues to peoples' emotions. He feels emotions deeply, but does not show them in ways most people can understand. He uses multiple coping mechanisms to center himself in the real world, such as rocking back and forth, humming and flapping his hands and arms. "Normal" people are sure he is a retarded freak. Cullinan lets us peek inside Emmet's mind and read his thoughts. She captured the autistic thinking processes accurately and sympathetically. I was astounded.
Jeremey contends with major depression disorder and clinical anxiety. He isn't just sad or worried, because neither condition is sadness and worry on steroids. They control every aspect of his life. He is convinced he's fundamentally bad, broken, undeserving and hopeless, and lives in constant fear of being wrong and ridiculed. "Normal" people want him to 'snap out of it.' or 'try harder.' The unfortunate truth is that his brain wiring and chemistry bar him from ever snapping out of anything, and use trying harder to make things worse. Cullinan captures the thinking process of major depression and clinical anxiety far better than most, but that is merely a very difficult task. Unlike capturing the thinking processes of an autistic, which few neurotypicals other than psychiatrists or neuroscientists can even attempt.
The author develops the characters well. The book is appropriately paced, the plot easy to follow, the dialog accurate and easy to understand. Secondary characters are sketched, not painted, but that's OK. Otherwise they might interfere with appreciating her superb presentation of the main characters' thoughts.
Yes, the two men fall in love. A reader may choose to enjoy the love story, which is well worth doing for that purpose alone. Readers who recognize Cullinan's extraordinary grasp of the minds and thoughts of also-normal-but-very-different people will be rewarded many times over.