Sander Dalen is a Norwegian boy aged fifteen. He has Silver Russell syndrome, with restricted growth and arms of different lengths. He is of course the shortest person in his school year, a fact which irritates him profoundly. He has an older brother Jakob and a younger brother Adrian. Naturally people imagine that Adrian is older than Sander simply because he is taller. A new boy Niklas joins the school and befriends the Dalen brothers. The book poses two questions. Can Sander come to terms with his condition and begin to accept himself as he is? And what is Niklas’s secret?
One of the strongest features of this novel is the friendship Sander forms with an elderly man who is initially described as ‘the town lunatic’. The name is a misnomer. The two individuals discover that both of them have lost someone they love, in the case of the Dalen brothers their father and in the case of the older man his beloved wife. Sander and his new friend discover that they have a shared passion for photography, which leads them to a closer bond. Another strength of the book is the way that Niklas’s secret is revealed, slowly and credibly.
This reviewer found only two points at which the performance of the book was less than satisfactory. At the opening of the book Sander deliberately fails some tests at school. He reasons that if he is marked down as less intelligent he will be held back and have a better chance of being the same height as his classmates. The message delivered to children with impairments is that underperforming may be a legitimate competitive tool – the opposite of what should be encouraged. The author no doubt wished to register just how desperate Sander had to be to resort to this tactic. But all the same the message is unacceptable. Elsewhere in the story the friends attend a Halloween party. Niklas decides to attend disguised as a suicide victim. Suicidal impulses crop up frequently in the book. Once again it is possible to understand the motivation of the author. Reality may accord too often with her image of an impaired life. But it is a note better left unstruck.