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Literature / When My Heart Joins the Thousand

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When My Heart Joins the Thousand is a 2018 novel by A.J. Steiger.

Seventeen-year-old Alvie Fitz is an autistic orphan eagerly waiting for her eighteenth birthday, when she will be emancipated. When her social worker, Dr. Bernhardt, threatens to make her see a counselor if she can't make at least one friend, she decides to message Stanley Finkel, a boy with osteogenesis imperfecta she's seen at the local park. Their relationship goes from online to in person, but Alvie, traumatized by the loss of her mother, is afraid to get close to him.

When My Heart Joins the Thousand contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: When Alvie was a kid, her classmates would bully her, and the teacher and principal would give her detention for defending herself while doing nothing to stop the actual bullying.
  • Character Tics: Alvie tugs on her braids, a habit she's had since childhood.
  • Childhood Home Rediscovery: Alvie drives Stanley to the long-deserted house in the countryside where she lived with her mama for the first eleven years of her life.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Poor Alvie had a rough time her entire life. Her father left when she was a baby. She was bullied in school, with the teachers doing nothing to help and actually punishing her, her psychiatrist refused to believe her over it and declared her to be schizophrenic. Her mother was abusive and tried to kill her along with herself. She was forced to live alone for years. Upon losing her job at the zoo due to trying to save Chance, she was unable to get another one and got evicted, forcing her to live in her car. And then, due to all the traumatic events in her life, she was reluctant to make friends with the genuinely nice Stanley.
  • Desk Sweep of Rage: After Alvie's mama died, she spent four weeks catatonic in a mental hospital. Her first voluntary movement was knocking a plate and a cup of medication off the dinner tray with her arm.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Alvie's father left when she was a baby because he felt like he wasn't fit to be a father. All she has left of him is a picture her mother had that was taken a few months before she was born. According to Mama, he was a Conspiracy Theorist prone to fits of rage.
    • Stanley's dad got kicked out of the house after he accidentally broke Stanley's arm while drunk. After that, Stanley only saw him on holidays, and even that eventually stopped. Stanley isn't sure if his dad is afraid of hurting him again, or if he just didn't have the guts to stick around.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: Almost as soon as Alvie meets Stanley in person, she proposes sex, not because she particularly expects to enjoy it, but because she just wants to feel connected to someone for a little while with no strings attached. Stanley is startled, but agrees to dinner and sex in a motel. But once they're in the motel room, he changes his mind because he doesn't want Alvie to see his scars.
  • Dumb Struck: Even after eleven-year-old Alvie regained the ability to move voluntarily, she was silent for months. The staff thought she'd regressed and lost all her language comprehension, but in fact she was too traumatized to care about anything enough to talk. Eventually she recovered enough to ask a nurse for a book on quantum mechanics, to the nurse's shock.
  • Emancipated Child: Dr. Bernhardt gets Alvie a hearing with the judge that will give her a chance of being emancipated early, months before she turns eighteen. Alvie gets emancipated by lying that she thinks she was misdiagnosed with autism and is now completely normal.
  • Embarrassing Last Name: Stanley's last name rhymes with Tinkle, which got him teased in grade school.
  • Empty Bedroom Grieving: Throughout Stanley's mother's final illness and death from brain cancer, he left her room untouched. The only thing that's changed is the amount of dust.
  • Flowers of Romance: Stanley takes Alvie skating and gives her a red carnation. Alvie accidentally crushes the stem but can't bring herself to throw it out, so she tapes it up and puts it in a water glass. Alvie takes the now-dead flower with her when she gets evicted. Much later, she gets a carnation tattooed over her heart.
  • Furniture Blockade: Alvie breaks into the zoo after hours to destroy a sign that says that animals don't have feelings. Some maintenance workers catch her and, thinking she's a mentally ill criminal, lock her in a closet in an office building and block the doorknob with a chair. When the workers are out of the room, she kicks the door until the chair falls down, then escapes through a window. After she gets home, she worries the police will come after her, but they never do.
  • Happy Rain: When Alvie still lived with her mama, she would always run outside during storms, lie down in the woods, and listen to the thunder while the rain poured on her. It made her forget everything else.
  • Hates Being Touched: Alvie didn't mind when her mama touched her. Since she became a Foster Kid at age eleven, she can't stand being touched by any other people.
  • Lives in a Van: Alvie is fired from her job at the zoo for trying to rescue Chance. She applies to numerous other jobs but doesn't get any before she's evicted and ends up sleeping in her car. Despite the cold, hunger, and increased risk of assault, she finds her situation oddly freeing - she can mutter to herself and rock in front of people because homeless people are expected to be crazy, and she doesn't have to worry about her life being ruined because it already has.
  • Minor Living Alone: A judge agreed to let Alvie stay in her own apartment, as long as Dr. Bernhardt checks up on her at least twice a month. Alvie works at the zoo, feeding animals and cleaning cages, and makes enough money to scrape by.
  • Murder-Suicide: When Alvie was eleven, her mother drugged her to make her compliant, then drove off a pier into a lake with her. Alvie managed to escape from the car, despite her mother's efforts to drag her down. This is the reason Alvie is afraid to get close to Stanley - her mother insisted that she was killing her for her own good out of love, which makes her mistrust anyone who claims to love her.
  • My Parents Are Dead: Stanley tells Alvie over Gchat that his mom homeschooled him for a few years and asks if her parents homeschooled her. Alvie replies, "I don't have parents."
  • No Animals Allowed: At the zoo, new employee Toby stupidly goes into Chance the one-winged hawk's cage. Chance attacks him, and his rich parents threaten to sue, so the zoo decides to euthanize Chance. Alvie kidnaps Chance and takes him to her apartment, where he poops on everything. Alvie tells her landlord the smell is because she ate Mexican food and had a bad reaction, but when the neighbors start complaining about the noises, she decides to anonymously drop him off at Elmbrooke Wildlife Center.
  • No Medication for Me: Alvie was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia at age ten and forced to take pills that dulled her thoughts and feelings and made her feel like she was living in a bubble that made everything blurry and wobbly. She tried hiding them under her tongue and spitting them out, then vomiting them up in the bathroom, but Mama caught her and starting checking under her tongue, then banning her from the bathroom for two hours after taking the pill. Eventually Alvie figured out a solution - she bought some vitamin pills that looked like her medication and swapped the pills while Mama was sleeping. Mama never noticed the difference.
  • Properly Paranoid: Alvie was diagnosed with schizophrenia partly because she truthfully told the doctor that everyone at school was against her.
  • The Runaway: Alvie used to live in a group home for troubled teenagers where she was so miserable, she ran away three times. The third time, she told the judge that homelessness was preferable to living there and begged her to emancipate her, which is why she got her own apartment.
  • Security Blanket: Alvie takes a Rubik's cube everywhere so she can use it to calm herself down. She thinks that if she didn't carry it around, she'd probably have taken up smoking.
  • Sensory Overload: Alvie gets a new job as a cashier at Clucky's Chicken. Things go okay for the first hour, until the place starts getting crowded. Alvie becomes so overwhelmed by the noises and smells that her vision starts to warp. She runs outside and ends up in a Troubled Fetal Position behind the dumpsters. Alvie doesn't work another shift there.
  • Shout-Out: the book's title, to a Due to the Dead proverb in rabbit culture in Watership Down:
    Hazel: My heart has joined the Thousand for my friend stopped running today.
  • Signature Scent: Stanley has a warm, pleasant smell, like cinnamon and old books.
  • This Is Reality: When Alvie drops Chance off at Elmbrooke, she imagines that if this were an animal movie, he would have both wings, and she could just pull over, let him out, and watch him fly into the woods while inspiring music plays. Instead, she leaves his carrier near the door with a note saying his name, knocks, and runs.
  • Trauma Button: Alvie is terrified of deep water because it reminds her of her attempted murder.
  • The Un-Smile: In third grade, Alvie had to see a counselor, who told her to smile, as "an easy way to be friendly." Alvie bared her teeth at her.
  • Why Couldn't You Be Different?: When Alvie was little, her mama didn't care that she was different. But the older she got, the harder her mama tried to fix her, until their relationship consisted almost entirely of her mama dragging her to different therapists and complaining about how she wanted the "real Alvie" back.
  • Your Favorite: Alvie's mama served her her favorite foods, mac 'n' cheese and chicken nuggets, the evening she tried to kill her.