by Powers, Richard

A widowed astrobiologist and single father to a troubled son contemplates an experimental neurofeedback treatment that trains the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother's brain in the new novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Overstory.

*Starred Review* Powers, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory (2018), focuses his new, intimate novel on loneliness, tragedy, and love for life and family. Theo, an astrobiologist, and his sensitive nine-year-old son, Robin, who has a keen interest in nature, struggle to adapt following the unexpected death of spirited wife and mother Aly. When Robin has a fit of rage at school, Theo realizes he must seek treatment. Opposed to pharmacological intervention, he enrolls Robin in an experimental therapy, known as decoded neurofeedback, which matches brain-pattern activity to a model brain print from another individual. The other individual in Robin's case? Aly, his deceased mother. As therapy progresses, Robin transforms, perceiving biodiversity with fresh insights, wonder, and fascination. He is happier, more inquisitive, and even motivated to fight for environmental change amid the inexorable ecological doom all around him. But will these surprisingly positive outcomes persist? With soaring descriptions and forthright observations about our planet and the life it supports, Bewilderment is centered on a devoted father-and-son relationship, but it also offers rich commentary on the complex, often mystifying intersections between science, popular culture, and politics. In the end, Theo, who searches for alien life in remote outposts of the universe, may make his most profound discovery, together with his son, much closer to home. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: As the best-selling The Overstory continues to reverberate, readers will be excited to turn to another deeply involving Powers novel. Copyright 2021 Booklist Reviews.

A widower pursues an unusual form of neurological therapy for his son in this affecting story. Astrobiologist Theo Byrne, 45, looks for life in outer space while his 9-year-old son, Robin, seeks to protect endangered animals on Earth. Both are still grieving for the boy's mother, Alyssa, an animal rights activist who died in a car accident two years ago as she swerved to avoid hitting an opossum. Since then, Robin has been subject to tantrums and violence and variously diagnosed with Asperger's, OCD, and ADHD. Theo has resisted medication and turns to a university colleague who is experimenting with a neurological therapy. Powers has followed his awarding-winning, bestselling The Overstory (2018), a busy eco-epic featuring nine main characters, with this taut ecological parable borne by a small cast. It's a darker tale, starting with an author's note about Flowers for Algernon and continuing through Robin's emotional maelstrom, Theo's parental terrors, and, not far in the background, environmental and political challenges under a Trump-like president. Yet there are also shared moments of wonder and joy for a father and son attuned to science and nature and each other, as well as flashbacks that make Alyssa a vibrant presence. The empathy that holds this nuclear family together also informs Robin's ceaseless concern and efforts on behalf of threatened species, just as the absence of empathy fuels the threat. As always, there's a danger of preachiness in such stories. Powers generally avoids it by nurturing empathy for Robin. While the boy's obsession with the fate of the planet's nonhuman life can seem like religious fervor, it has none of the cant or self-interest. He is himself a rare and endangered species. A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence. Copyright Kirkus 2021 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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