Aspiring writer Penn Reynard has just joined the ranks of America’s fifteen million retail workers: fresh out of college with an English degree, he can’t find a job anywhere except at the local big-box hardware store. Working returns, Penn experiences firsthand the often comical absurdity, chaos, and shenanigans of the retail world. At least he has a new romance with a coworker going for him—if he doesn’t screw it up. The constant pressures of dealing with hostile customers, oblivious coworkers, and overbearing management begin to take their toll on him, though, and as his desired career path threatens to fall out of reach, Penn struggles to break free of retail’s clutches.
Reviewed by Awesome Indies
November 11, 2014
The Retail by Joshua Danker-Dake is an easy, fun read. Anyone who’s ever been inside one of those Big Box home improvement stores will instantly recognize the setting, though I doubt my local Home Depot or Lowe’s is hiding sales associates as clever and funny as these. The conversations are the sort we wish we had with our work colleagues, but our colleagues are mere mortals, while the boys and girls of the House Station are bright and witty. The interactions with the customers-from-hell ring true, if sometimes exaggerated for effect.
Main character, Penn, is a recent collage graduate and wannabe writer (Why are these protagonists always wannabe writers, never wannabe lawyers, or wannabe plumbers?) working at the House Station after being denied entrance to grad school. Told in dairy-like episodes, the book chronicles Penn’s 431 days toiling in retail, his interactions with his colleagues, his roommate and his girlfriend, and his budding romance with Chloe, who works in Paint. It’s easy to visualize this story as a film—a young twenties, buddy-film, coming-of-age, romcom.
The book is well edited and fast-paced. There’s nothing deep, profound, or unexpected here, but there doesn’t need to be. Readers looking for a light, enjoyable story won’t be disappointed. A strong four stars.
Chloe is different. She has Asperger’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder and probably a few other inconvenient conditions as well. She’s a quirky, resourceful and clever psychology student, but her world is literally about to be shaken apart. A devastating earthquake sparks a chain of events that spiral her life out of control. She’s off her meds. Her oddly-named cat is missing. She doesn’t know what she wants out of life any more. Misfortune and uncertainty don’t mix well with bundles of energy and Chloe’s tendency to ignore consequences. It’s as if mayhem and trouble are her constant companions. Will Chloe be able to cope with the earth-shaking events that rock her world? Share her journey.
Review by Awesome Indies Assessor
May 20, 2014
Sometimes you can tell from the beginning that a book is going to be awesome. Kaleidoscope by Kevin Berry was one of them, and it was primarily due to the strength of the author’s voice. Chloe leapt off the very first page like the vibrant and delightfully individual character that she is, and her unwavering honesty and cheerful acceptance of her various ‘conditions’ made her highly endearing.
This book follows on from STIM, but you don’t need to have read it first. The central character in STIM is Robert, Chloe’s boyfriend, and near the end of that book, they experience the earthquake that shocked Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010. Kaleidoscope is narrated by Chloe, a bipolar Aspie (person with Asperger’s syndrome), and near the beginning of this book, she and Robert experience the more disastrous February 2011 Earthquake that demolished Christchurch’s central business district and killed over 100 people. The earthquake and the difficulties it imposes on the people of Christchurch in the following months makes this book more dramatic and action orientated than STIM, which for many will make it the better book, but both books are excellent; STIM simply has a different kind of energy. It reflects Robert’s placid and stable nature, whereas Kaleidoscope reflects Chloe’s volatility. She is prone to impulses and wild schemes, which allows for more surprises.
People with Asperger’s syndrome find change difficult to handle, so Chloe has particular difficulty adjusting to the aftermath of the earthquake. Her task in this book is to come back to some level of personal stability.
As with STIM, this book has a striking ‘realness’ about it. There is no pretense or artifice; like the characters, Berry simply tells it as it is. I have read the speculative fiction books Berry co-authored and, though well worth a read for those who like fantasy parody, they pale into insignificance beside these simple and charming masterpieces. It is wonderful to see an author’s true talent emerge in this way, and I hope we can look forward to more books written with the same honesty and integrity.
One of the charming things about this book is Berry’s humour. It comes out in puns and delightful neologisms, e.g. ‘The university towers quagswagged like populars in a breeze’, and the dialogue about time travel between Chloe, who is in the middle of a manic episode, and a woman waiting outside a portable toilet had me chuckling. ‘It’s a freaking port-a-loo, not a tardis,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t go anywhere and it’s definitely no bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.’
We also get a real glimpse into the Kiwi spirit in how they handle life in post-quake Christchurch. Chloe and Robert are trying to have sex in a tree when an aftershock happens. They are shaken from the tree and fall in the river. When their neighbour hauls them out, he makes no comment on what they were doing in the tree, simply gives his estimate of the strength, depth and epicentre of the quake. Apparently, the locals are very good at guessing now. Another interesting point is how Chloe receives her first information immediately post-quake about what’s happening in the Christchurch CBD via a text from her father in Melbourne who is watching it unfold on television.
Chloe’s dreams of the CBD Red Zone, the demolition area roped off by the army, are particularly powerful, as is her reaction when she skates around the perimeter and looks in at the destruction. Her thoughts and feelings mirror mine exactly when I saw the damage for myself a year after the quake.
All up, this is a wonderful book, I highly recommend it to all readers, especially to anyone with someone with Asperger’s or bi-polar disorder in their life. Berry brings this charming and ruthlessly honest story alive with a clear and distinctive voice.
Robert is different. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people – which he cannot – and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend – he’s decided it’s his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger’s, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn’t, but doesn’t mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl…and not even a major earthquake will stop him. This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert’s point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.
Awesome Indies Assessor
November 7, 2013
STIM is a sensitive and charming portrayal of an autistic man’s search for a girlfriend. Robert lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has Autistic Spectrum Disorder which means that he finds social situations awkward. He has difficulty reading social signals and understanding social conventions, hence finding a girlfriend is much harder for him that it is for NS (Non Spectrum) people.
This simple story glows with Robert’s earnest and honest character. His straight forward nature is the cause of much confusion for him and many chuckles for the reader, but there’s a serious side to the story, a call for celebrating neural diversity rather than shunning those whose brain works slightly differently to the norm. Reading this book will help you to understand what life is like for an autistic person and for anyone with clinical depression, that’s the kind that can be treated with medication – happy pills, as Robert calls them. You’ll also gain some insight into bipolar disorder. Robert isn’t bipolar, but he does have a manic episode when he ups his dose of happy pills.
Mr Berry draws this endearing character so well that we see the logic of Robert’s perception. Some of the things we Neuro Typical people find normal, like figurative speech for example, are ridiculous when seen from Robert’s point of view. Robert is somewhat like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory. He has the same innocence, social ignorance, logical brain and ability to focus on obscure areas of study. Roberts language is very formal; he even speaks without contractions. At first it seems rather stiff and odd, but I soon realized now perfectly his speech patterns expressed his character.
Chloe is another wonderful character, also an Aspie, and a good friend who helps Robert to become comfortable in his own skin. In this way, it’s a coming of age story, that of a young autistic man finding his place on the world. Steph, their flatmate, is an excellent role model for how understanding NS people can be towards those with different neurological wiring. I loved it when he sent her aggro boyfriend packing.
Journal entries detailing what Robert had read recently and how much sexual activity he had had peppered the novel. The book titles and his descriptions of them were delightful as were his reactions to the question of sex. The author uses the format extremely well at the end. The book is undoubtedly well written. The character, the issues and the challenges come over loud and clear, and in an entertaining package.
This is not an an action packed book, and yet I didn’t want to put it down – an indication of the author’s skill. Robert’s life had enough tension in simple things like going to a party and working a job, and the addition of his experience in the Christchurch earthquake ramped it up at just the right point in the plot line. I really wanted Robert to find a girlfriend, but the odds seemed stacked against him. The end was not a surprise, but it was a delight.
I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes literary or contemporary fiction and it really should be read by anyone who knows or works with autistic people in any way. The first person point of view really gets you inside Robert’s head. Stories about people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are not as rare as you might think, but they are rarely touted as such – take Sherlock Holmes for example.
Well done, Mr Berry. STIM undoubtedly deserves 5 stars.
(2) Review by Tahlia Newland
This is a truly wonderful book. The author has a very strong voice, the characters are real, the subject matter relevant, and the book is immaculately edited.
(3)Review by Vivian
Highly recommended. I don’t know if the author wrote this book in the hope of giving a moral lesson, but the main character’s different-ness made me look at life and people differently. Funny and sad and tender.
(4)Review by Marsha Cornelius
I loved this book, and his second one, too, Kaleidoscope. Such unusual characters, and a wonderful story. Can’t recommend it enough.
(5)Review by Adan Ramie
I didn’t think this was as funny as others have, most likely because I have an intimate connection with two autistic people and have an understanding (admittedly, the small amount I can from being closer to the neurotypical side of the scale) about the way their minds work.