There are two main plot lines at the heart of When David Was Surprised. The first involves David's desire to invite his friend Sarah ("the girl of my dreams") on a real date. Sarah has Autism, which impedes her ability to communicate with others. Though David understands that Sarah may say "no" - or that she may not respond at all - he simply wants the opportunity to ask her. The second, rather comical, storyline involves a surprise birthday party that David's family is planning for him - and all the mishaps and misunderstandings that complicate that process.
At its core, this particular book is about a young man wishing to assert his independence. As if doing so isn't daunting enough at times, David also has to contend with well-meaning but over-protective grown-ups who are so concerned that he might get his feelings hurt that they don't realize that they are infringing upon his right to take that chance. It's a common theme, but one that Kelleher handles with uncommon grace. (Readers will empathize with David's dilemma - and they'll cheer him on as he valiantly embraces the obstacles in his way, even learning how to ask Sarah out on a date in sign language should the opportunity arise.)
Of course, there's a lot more to the book than that. As readers venture through day-to-day life with David, they will be exposed to his many relationships and routines - an experience that sheds light on his universal triumphs and tribulations (Work! Jealousies! Family feuds!) while also illustrating how he enriches the lives of those around him by virtue of his presence. The focus, then, is firmly on David's abilities (rather than his disabilities), which provides a subtle but oft needed reminder that, despite our apparent differences, we're all still very much the same.
If How David Met Sarah was a "groundbreaking" debut, then When David Was Surprised is a worthy follow-up. Both entertaining and poignant, it beautifully illustrates relatable and resonant themes such as tolerance, friendship, love and self-empowerment. This book may be short on pages but it's long on ideas - and big on heart! - John Valeri, Hartford Books Examiner