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The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous

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Marvelous Merilee Monroe, dragon loving, Pez dispenser collecting, thirteen-year-old who has Asperger's Syndrome lives in Jumbo, Texas and is searching for her place in the world.

As I read Suzanne Crowley's book I was taken on a unique journey into the mind of Merilee and her Very Ordered Existence. Crowley's book is full of colorful characters that you want to get to know.
Merilee's new friend Biswick is an 8-year-old boy with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He and his "Irish" alcoholic poet father just moved to Jumbo. Veraleen is someone you would want on your side. She is tough, but with a heart as big as Texas. Both Biswick and Veraleen need Merilee and vice versa!
As a teacher, I feel for those kids who "do not fit in." Parents and teachers can reach out to children, but if they don't have peer acceptance, those kids fall into a "different" category. Like Merilee, I see those kids searching for their VOE (Very Orderly Existence). It's difficult to find your place at thirteen. I certainly wouldn't want to do it over again. It's the time puberty hits and you care so much about what your peers think. You're stuck in between being a kid and an adult. When you're thirteen you need your parents and caring adults more than ever.

Every year I invite my Dad to come to my classroom and talk to the kids about government. When he leaves, he always says something like, "Everyone should come volunteer at a school to be around children because you forget what it's like...that innocence, wonderment, and curiosity." Merilee seems to be on the cusp of losing her childlike innocence and becoming a bit sarcastic, pessimistic, and cynical.

We are young for such a short time. It's a difficult time full of uncomfortable situations, but that's part of what shapes us as adults. This is a moment in Merilee's life when she is questioning faith and hope; she dives more deeply into her imaginary world of dragons for safety.

Merilee has a very precise and controlled schedule and when Biswick and Veraleen come into her life she has to put her VOE on hold. I've taught children like Merilee. You DON'T mess with the schedule; it throws them off and ruins their mood and day! Everything must be in order and when there is a fire drill or something to throw them off, it's very uncomfortable and frustrating to a child, but especially a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

Merilee passes out purple tootsie pops to people so they will leave her alone. She is always drawing dragons and her teacher tells her, "Come back from dragon land Miss Monroe." She has coordination issues, blurts out words like: stupendous, marvelous, and horrendous all the time. Her Dad gave her the nickname "Hug" which is ironic because Merilee hates to be touched.

Her sister "Bug" is hard on her and is very resentful. Her mom is very spiritual and always trying to talk Merilee into going to church with her. Merilee's grandmother is not a typical loving Nana; the only thing she gave her was her name and a knit hat. Merilee feels that her grandmother strongly dislikes her. She has fond memories of her other grandmother who died when she was little; I like that she remembers her looking like Mrs. Butterworth. Through her new friends, Biswick and Veraleen, Merilee learns how to love.

I thought of the movie Napoleon Dynamite when traveling into Merilee's world. Both characters are deeply into their own world and their peers at school tease them for being different. Both are obsessed with magical creatures (ligers and dragons). But in the end they see the power of family, friends, and love. They realize they have a choice; they can choose to play tether ball alone or let someone in their VOE to play with them.

1. How did Merilee evolve throughout the course of the novel?
2. What character did you relate to the most?
3. What was your favorite part of the book?
4. Would The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous make a good movie?
5. We all have a VOE, what's yours as a mom?

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