A Wizard Alone (Young Wizards #6) by Diane Duane
It is probably obvious to anyone who knows the "Young Wizards" series and who looks into my book review history that I have missed a book. This is because I discovered this series not too long after my own mom had died, and the book that I have not reviewed, "Wizard's Dilemma" features the death of Nita and Dairine's mom from a brain malignancy. It was too soon for me to face that and so I ended up skipping the book. I haven't had the courage yet to go back and face it. I will. Someday. Probably.
I am really looking forward to this reread, I love this book for a lot of reasons. One is the title, for reasons that will become obvious once I get into the review. Another is the emphasis on a new favorite character, and the further development of two old favorites (one of whom will emerge later on as one of my very favorites in the whole series, at least in part because there is a trait that this character has that I would love to have).
"A Wizard Alone" opens a month after Betty Callahan's death. The surviving Callahans are still reeling from their loss and Nita has been stuck with the role of "mom." It is her job to get her dad up and ready for work. Additionally, Dairine has been skipping school and it has also fallen to Nita to make sure that her sister gets to school every day.
Over at the Rodriguez house things are getting more peculiar. The Rodriguez family has gotten a new home theater system and the pieces are disagreeing with each other. Further, Kit's mom realizes that she can understand Ponch. And once Kit negotiates a detente among the electronics, the fun really begins.
Kit is called over to Tom and Carl's house to see if he will take an assignment. A boy has been stuck in his Ordeal for around three months. To make matters more confusing, the boy, Darryl McAllister, has not been reported missing, either. Tom asks Kit to nose around and see if he can find out what is happening with Darryl.
Kit takes Ponch to Darryl's school and discovers that it is a school for children with special needs. Darryl is severely autistic, and Kit and Ponch use Ponch's ability to hop between universes to visit the universe (or universes) inside Darryl's mind. The variety and detail in these universes are a highlight of the book.
I found Duane's take on autism to be interesting. She uses a number of common theories on the origins of autism, including the idea that autistic children retreat into themselves because of excessive sensory input, and that autistic people have difficulty acknowledging the existence of others, and then she throws a wizardry-related reason in there, too. You see, Darryl is a wizard, but there is something else exceptional about him as well.
The most interesting thing about this book, and the reason I love the title referenced above, is that there is an obvious answer to the question of who the titular "Wizard Alone" is, but there are also several not-so-obvious answers. This is because ultimately, every wizard in this book is alone at some point. Nita and Dairine are isolated in their mourning, Kit is isolated by Nita's isolation, and Darryl is alone in his mind. And even Tom and Carl are alone. First they are having a domestic dispute that leaves Tom to be Kit's contact in the matter and then Tom is called away to a meeting and Carl ends up being the contact.
We meet several new characters, and see more development of existing characters, including Kit's sister Carmela, who is emerging as one of my favorites in the series. Without spoiling too much, I think I can say that every character in this book that I grow to love comes back again at some point in the future of the series.