Category Archives: Autism/Asperger Syndrome

The Case of the Exploding Loo

Do I strike you as a witch who’d be offended by exploding portaloos, or mentions of poo?

No? Thank you. Unless, of course, the exploding loo means one is caught short.

Rachel Hamilton, The Case of the Exploding Loo

Anyway, a book that is both humorous and has a Faraday’s cage as part of the plot, can not only not be bad, but must of necessity be pretty good. The Case of the Exploding Loo by Rachel Hamilton (she’s the one who worried about offending my sensitivities) is silly, but fun.

Noelle’s scientist dad has disappeared in an explosion in a portaloo. The police reckon he is dead, as they could only find a pair of smoking shoes, but his daughter is set on solving the puzzle and starts an investigation. She phones the police so often that they want to scream when they hear her voice.

But someone has to find her dad, and it clearly won’t be the stupid police. Sort of aided by her older sister Holly, Noelle uses her very high IQ to come up with ideas. Their mum has gone bananas, and life in the Hawkins household gets stranger every day.

She is perhaps not so skilled socially as Holly, but Noelle still finds lots of clues missed by the police. And with the help of a portaloo fan, some meccano and an old police retainer, they discover the weirdest things.

Read, if you want to find out. Might help if you are young of mind, like I am. Poo.

The Case of the Bogus Detective

Imagine the joy of finding that the trilogy you liked so much didn’t, in fact, end with the third book. There is a fourth! The last one, from what I’ve heard, but very nice all the same. (And I don’t think we should rule out more from the way things were left…)

Caroline Lawrence, The Case of the Bogus Detective

Caroline Lawrence’s very likeable aspie detective PK Pinkerton is back, in The Case of the Bogus Detective. We now know what sex Pinky is, but that only adds to the fun. PK’s long lost dad, the famous Pinkerton detective turns up, and together they set out to solve the robberies on stage coaches carrying valuables. Pinkerton Sr wants PK to dress as a girl, and goes so far as to teach Pinky how to act like one, how to walk, and so on. He doesn’t appear to have much dress sense however, which is so like a man.

Jace seems to have let PK down and the relationship with Ping sours somewhat, and Mark Twain, as he now calls himself, sets off for San Francisco. Pinky isn’t far behind, on the trail of the stage coach robbers.

So this time we have a true western adventure on a stage coach, followed by more adventures in San Francisco. We’ve heard so much about the city, and now PK can see what it’s like, as well as solve a mystery. Things are tied up most satisfactorily.

I have loved these westerns with a difference, and would happily read more. And I’ll have my own Sioux outfit now, thank you. I’ve always wanted one.

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis is wonderful! That’s the book by Gill Lewis, as well as her heroine. They are both called Scarlet Ibis.

Twelve-year-old Scarlet is a hard-working older sister who looks after her younger brother Red, as well as their unwell mother. She loves them both, and both are rather difficult characters. The mother is immature and can’t cope. Red is on the autistic spectrum and loves birds; especially the scarlet ibis.

Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis

Red looks at the birds he can see from the window in their top floor flat, and once a month Scarlet takes him to the zoo as a treat. He collects birds’ feathers and is most particular about the order they are kept in, and he desperately wants one from a scarlet ibis.

But things go wrong, and the two siblings are separated from each other and from their mum. Scarlet knows she’s the only one who understands Red properly, despite what the social worker thinks, so she needs to find him again.

This is a very warm story, with less of the grey side of life than I had been expecting. Birds, and people who like birds, play a large part in the story. Scarlet makes good friends, and she discovers what it’s like to actually be allowed to be a young girl, and not just a carer. And Red is a fairly capable boy for an aspie and beautifully determined, and you can see that something will surely work out. The question is how.

I knew this would be great, and it was. Is. Read it and feel good about humanity. (And birds, I suppose.)

Al Capone Does My Homework

Gennifer Choldenko covers a lot in the third outing for Al Capone, in her trilogy set on Alcatraz in the 1930s. To begin with, there’s a terrific children’s novel. Then there’s the autism aspect, which she handles so well, fitting it neatly into the plot. Also some American history, as well as showing us the community spirit of people living close together in such an unusual place, with a bit of crime and lots of excitement added.

Not that Mr Capone enters centre stage, or anything. He just hovers in the background, somehow colouring much of what goes on at Alcatraz prison.

The lovely Moose is 13 now, and his Dad has been made Assistant Warden. This causes lots of trouble, with jealousies among other prison guards, and difficulties with the cons. Then there is Moose’s sister Natalie, who is 16 and is autistic. Her family are trying to teach her to make eye contact with people.

Attacks on people, arson, gambling and counter-feiting fill this book on childhood in times gone by, and exciting though this is, what matters is the friendships, the solidarity and the hard work it means to have Natalie in your family. Moose does so much, and still feels he is failing. He’s also falling in love, which is both easy and hard in such a small place. ‘Being locked in a shed with a girl you once kissed and your best friend who happens to be a girl is not exactly relaxing.’

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Does My Homework

I know Gennifer has done a lot of research, because she says so in her notes. But it only shows in how natural the whole story feels. You end up thinking you’re there on Alcatraz, in 1930s America. I’m sorry the trilogy has come to an end, but I have enjoyed every minute of all three books. Credit to new publisher Hot Key Books for taking over, and for keeping the cover art – by Melvyn Evans – in the style we’d learned to love.


Tomorrow Can Wait: Exploring Europe With Our Autistic Child

When Monika Scheele Knight first told me about her book, I was only paying attention to the travelling. I felt it was a very ambitious – perhaps too ambitious – task to undertake with an autistic child. Easier to stay at home, I thought. But, each to their own.

German Monika lives in Berlin with her American husband Scott and their 13-year-old son John. Her book about travelling with John is self published (at least the English version, as I understand it), and exists in two languages. Once I’d begun reading, I had to ask her what language they use at home, feeling it unlikely they could be bilingual with a mostly non-verbal boy. Her reply was that John does understand some English, as it’s what she and Scott use, so she reckons he is a non-speaking bilingual child.

As soon as I had started reading, I also understood why they travelled, and why Monika needed to write about it. After meeting the mother of a 30-year-old autistic son who refuses to go out, effectively imprisoning her in the home, Monika vowed to travel with John to try and prevent that fate for herself. As a toddler John was reasonably willing to go out, if it was on his terms.

So she set off for Rhodes for a week on her own with John, and it went well. What I particularly like is the way Monika and Scott realise they need to take things slowly and not force John (unless absolutely necessary), which means holidays where they occasionally do ‘nothing’ or just a little, like eating lunch bought in the local shop in a deserted children’s playground.

And it’s not just about travelling. In each chapter about a different place they visited, Monika writes about John’s autism in general, how he develops, and what life with an autistic child is like in Germany (much better than in many other countries, I’d say). She muses about various theories, as well as the history of autism, and the murder of handicapped people in the war, and how people treat them when they are out and about. The older John gets, the easier it becomes for strangers to realise he’s behaving oddly because he is not normal, rather than being a badly brought up child.

John auf dem Fahrrad

(This rather lovely photo of a smiling John, in Holland, was taken almost immediately after a major meltdown, which is such an autistic way for things to work out. I have borrowed the picture from Monika’s blog, as it was used for the back cover of the book.)

You feel exhausted following the family round Europe. All the driving, or having meltdowns in airports, or moving things out of John’s reach, or stopping him from hurting himself, seem like an endless lot of hard work with no respite. And I’m sorry their experience of Sweden was so poor.

I find case histories irresistible, and this book is one big case history. Very interesting and very inspiring.

3 x Theodore Boone

For various reasons I have read The Abduction, The Accused and The Activist, all about Theodore Boone – the loveliest of 13-year-old almost-lawyers – and all by John Grisham, in the last week. Since I had the opportunity, it was actually quite nice to give in to the urge to read more ‘ in one sitting.’ Which is why I read books 2, 3 and 4 in quick succession.

Theo will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he certainly suits me. And I will continue giving these books the Aspie label; not because Theo is one (well, not much), but because the sheer orderliness and lack of the unexpected in these books means they are well suited to someone who needs to know what’s what and not be too overwhelmed by surprise.

The Theodore Boone books are full of instructions on how to live life successfully. It’s not all about some nice middle class dream existence in a nice quiet American town, even though it might look like that. Theo is here to set examples of what to do and why and how you can win over the powerful people in your own life, like parents, teachers and policemen. Be polite. Consider not saying the first thing that pops into your head. Work hard to achieve what you want.

It’d be easy to think Theo has it made and that nothing bad will ever happen to this archetypal American hero. Book 1 looked like that, but here bad things happen and Theo needs to work to put things right. He learns, and we learn with him.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone: The Abduction

In The Abduction his friend April disappears, and while the police search for her, Theo and his friends and his Uncle Ike do it their way. Guess who manages to find April?

John Grisham, Theodore Boone: The Accused

The Accused goes much further, because here Theo is the one under scrutiny. Someone is setting him up (we know that), but the police believe he has committed a crime and want to arrest him. Even having two lawyers for parents isn’t enough, or having the support of many friends and influential adults. Theo can visualise his whole future in ruins, if the misunderstanding isn’t cleared up.

John Grisham, Theodore Boone: The Activist

He never imagined he’d be disappointed in the law, but in The Activist Theo discovers that people can loose their homes perfectly legally. A bypass is being planned to make his home town safer, but at the expense of people’s houses and the beautiful landscape and the fresh air. There seems to be plenty of money to fund the road building as well as for bribing politicians, while local budgets are slashed and people are losing their jobs.

What’s so nice, and so useful, is the way John Grisham explains how things in life work, as Theo either finds out from his parents, or he already knows and can explain stuff to his peers. If you’re twelve you don’t necessarily understand about taxes, how the law works or what the point of politics is. (Well, perhaps there isn’t one.)

I like that you learn that you can turn to adults with problems and they will be there for you, instead of the way fictional adult characters tend to either go away or die or are plain awful, and always against whatever the young characters need or want.

These books are also a slice of Americana, just the way we would like the US to be. And what’s wrong with that?

Notes from the editor

If you’ve never used an editor, you might not know what they do. To be perfectly honest I’m not 100% sure, either. But I might have a better understanding of the need for them than some. I remember what the editors on the Guardian used to do to my blog pieces for them. Some of it good; some infuriating annoying. It’s good to blog on my own here, where I can do as I like. But the paid blogging was good too. Getting paid. Reaching a larger or different audience.

(Can you tell I edit Bookwitch all the time? And still I have Offspring telling me there are two ‘thes’ or a missing possessive ‘s’ and all sorts of other stupid mistakes. I try not to kill them. I don’t always have a feel for what my readers will find interesting. I get things wrong. Assuming someone wanted to make a book from my blog posts; what do you reckon would happen? Are they ready to be printed straight as they are, or would they need endless editing? The former sounds nice and easy. The latter would make for a better product, but would also cease to be Bookwitch the book.)

As you know (if you’ve paid attention!) I get asked to read self-published books a lot. Some are book books, others ebooks or manuscript. Some are offered for possible review, others merely want an opinion. Some are seeking a ‘real’ publisher. Some are doing well, while others are not.

I seem to recall suggesting somewhere on here that people who can spell stand a better chance of hearing back from me. Some writers seem to feel that if they have indeed got the spelling and grammar right, then that’s all that’s needed.

It’s not. What – nearly – every writer needs, apart from the ability to be self-critical, is someone else to offer constructive criticism. Not nearly enough writers take this route. Or maybe they don’t specify that the husband, mother, neighbour or cousin should be truly critical. Not just say ‘that’s quite good, dear’ and let the writer continue in the belief that nothing needs changing.

Do you remember Fletcher Moss? He won the Chicken House competition a couple of years ago, and his published book was out last year. And it was very good. But, the place where Fletcher ended his story was where the editor suggested he had got about a third of the way, and he should write quite a bit more to make it a very different book. That didn’t mean Fletcher can’t write. He can. They, on the other hand, could see what might sell, or at least, sell better. If your neighbour isn’t Annie Eaton at Random, they will probably not know these things.

No one can see what goes on inside your head. You can, which is why what makes perfect sense to you, doesn’t always work when someone else reads your story. Is it even interesting to most people? Might it be a tad too encouraging of illegal or immoral behaviour? (I’m talking children’s books here.)

I know I like things to be smooth and lovely, and I still grind my teeth when there are lots of dreadful obstacles in a (published) book. I wish they didn’t need to happen. Except I know the obstacles are there to pave the way for improvements later. So, you need to have some bad stuff happening. Too smooth is ultimately boring.

A year ago I read someone’s manuscript, and the asked for criticism of what was a very good novel was taken extremely badly. In this case it was someone I don’t see in my daily life, but it was a lesson to be learned. I’m reading a surprisingly similar (in feel, not plot) MS at the moment. I have no need to say anything bad about it, but my heart beats faster, reminding me of last year.

In short (yeah, I know this wasn’t short at all), I may have to change to reading nothing outside mainstream publishing. Flak for money is all very well. Unsalaried flak is a different kettle of fish.