The Key to Charlotte
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Pages: 61
Goes Well With: a picnic meal somewhere peaceful and quiet

The protagonist in E. A. West’s The Key to Charlotte is a twenty-three-year-old autistic woman. Charlotte cleans the church, enjoys routine, and lives with her parents, but her new-found belief that she might handle surprises better now than she did as a child is tested when she hears a stranger playing a guitar.

The surprise that Charlotte faces is Zakaria Rush, the handsome new director of children’s ministries. The author portrays Charlotte’s thoughts and confusion on meeting him with a convincing inner voice. The young woman emerges as an endearing character with silent thoughts and genuine emotion. She doesn’t speak, she’s easily confused, and too many scents or sounds overload her senses and frighten her. But she’s intelligent and has the same longing for love and a future as anyone else.

Much to Charlotte’s delight, Zakaria treats her as a real person, asking questions with genuine interest and making no more than the most essential allowances. His touch engenders a curious feeling of rightness. His guitar-playing delights her. And conversation flows generously between them, even though Charlotte can only speak by text message.

Charlotte wonders if God is trying to tell her something as she falls for Zakaria. Meanwhile, Zakaria asks himself the same question. Can love blossom so quickly? Would God truly place two such people in each other’s path for such a purpose?

None of the characters in this tale are perfect, and their wounded souls make their issues easy to relate to—even for readers with no familiarity with autism. In the end, we’re all battered and broken in different ways. Zakaria reminds Charlotte that being different is okay; we’re all special, made especially by God. It makes a pleasing lesson. And, of course, like Charlotte, we all aspire to be less odd, however special we are.

Zakaria and Charlotte tread a wary dance to love through trust given, broken, and restored. In the end, trust of self, trust of others, and trust in God lead to hope and a future. Charlotte’s key, when she finds it, both satisfies and heals.

I enjoyed the author’s use of both first- and third-person storytelling. Entering Charlotte’s thoughts makes her problems vividly real, without turning her into an object for sympathy. Meanwhile, Zakaria provides the convincing presence of a normal person who’s striving to understand, giving readers a place to follow along with their own questions. Well-meaning friends and family, naturally curious teenagers, and innocent children form a pleasing backdrop, and the whole story makes an enjoyable, emotionally involving, and satisfying lunch-time read.

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