Who is it for?

Below is the comment left here by Julia Jarman yesterday:

“I’ve been meaning to write about a disturbing telephone conversation with an Aspie boy’s mum who emailed to say ring her about my book ‘Hangman.’ Ever the optimist, I thought she was going to tell me it was useful, moving, informative etc because I do get quite a few compliments about this book that boost the authorial ego, but OH NO! The lady told me that her son found it very upsetting and it did nothing at all to boost his morale. Far from it. The opposite in fact. All I could do was tell her how sorry I was and murmur that some people liked it, and that I wrote it at the request of an Aspie boy who wanted his story to be told. I’m left wondering – is my book doing more harm than good? – and would be interested to have other readers’ reactions.”

To me it was such an interesting and important question that I felt it would make a full blog post, rather than ‘just’ have a discussion in the comments section, and in the ‘wrong’ thread at that. (I don’t mind things going off topic, but to be useful it’s better if it’s posted under a suitable tag.)

The day I wrote my first Aspie booklist blog back in 2007 I had the wrong target in mind. I thought people needed educating about Aspieness. They do. And I think that’s what Hangman does admirably. It’s for all those who have no inkling what it’s like. It describes the miserable life of an Aspie boy. Not because having Asperger Syndrome is dreadful. But because in this case it’s the reason for some appalling bullying.

So I’m not surprised this lady’s son was upset. He will have seen only the bullying and the danger to Danny in the story, and may not have been able to draw any relief from the ending of the book. He may have been looking for ‘a nice story about’ someone like himself, perhaps like The London Eye Mystery. And that’s not what he got.

But no, I don’t think Julia was wrong to write this book. I think the boy’s mother was at fault. As a parent you must know your child well enough to know roughly what’s suitable at any given stage. As a parent of an Aspie child you would have got used to testing the water much more carefully on a daily basis. Whether it’s a case of facing total meltdown or just mild upsets, you know what to avoid, what to do, and you protect your child to the exclusion of having a life of your own, maybe.

This woman should have looked at the book first. As I say in my review, it frightened me for months before I grasped the bull by the horns and read it. There are plenty of books suitable for a child who needs to see someone like themselves in fiction. There are plenty of supportive non-fiction books that could provide useful support. Eating an Artichoke by Echo Fling comes to mind. It has an imaginative story about dealing with bullying, with the solution carried out by the Aspie boy himself with the help of adults. It was helpful adults that Danny in Hangman lacked.

As it says on the back of my copy of Hangman it’s “for anyone who’s ever been a playground thug or just stood by while someone else was being picked on”.

Julia has written a spot-on tale of bullying with an Aspie flavour. She hasn’t, to my mind, written a selfhelp book for young Aspie children.

I think this mother had a nerve telling Julia off like this. It wasn’t Julia who put the book into her son’s hands. The world is full of marvellous books that for some reason are not right for some people. Doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have been written.

I don’t knowingly put novels about zombies into the hands of Daughter. And there are books on subjects that I myself prefer not even to think about, let alone would consider reading. We can all accidentally give someone the wrong thing, but parents of Aspie children have generally learned to think five steps ahead for even the most mundane stuff. And if we fail, it’s easy to be furious, but it’d be nice not to take it out on an innocent author.

Though I’d be interested to know what the Aspie boy Julia wrote the book for thought. I could see that if I had been the victim of something, that it’d make my suffering more recognised to have a book written about it.

7 responses to “Who is it for?

  1. Thanks for those comments – and sorry I put mine in the wrong place. Duh! I’m still catching up with the technology. To be fair, it wasn’t the mother who put Hangman in the boy’s hands but a teacher who thought he might like it! I really do sympathise with the mum and the boy. To answer your question, the boy who inspired the book does like it. He helped me write it and thinks it’s an accurate picture of what it’s like being an Aspie boy. Readers might like to know that in real life he went on to study Archaeology.

  2. The term Aspergers covers such a wide spectrum that it might be preferable to say that the boy thinks it’s an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a certain type of Asperger’s boy… I also, personally, HATE the term ‘Aspies’. (Each to their own, of course, but it shows what a potential minefield the whole thing is.) Otherwise, I’d say the only person at fault seems to be the teacher here. Probably well intentioned, but I suspect that they may not have actually read the book themselves!

  3. I have not read the book, but I will try and get a copy. I know a couple of people with asperger’s syndrom and witnessed a newphew onf mine grow up with it. What these people need is hope. They are fully aware of their condition and do not alwaays want to be reminded about their inhibitions, and to be made to feel less confident about themselves. I think we all have to think carefully about what books we recommend to such special people. They are processing information on a very different operating system. I really do not like the term “Aspie” ( the onamotapeas is not pretty, and sounds like an insidious political movement).

  4. OK, Philip and Geoff – what would you call the Aspies? (Oops. Sorry.) It’s a term used by people about themselves, so not something I personally am throwing at anyone. I find it short and friendly. Most alternatives are a bit of a mouthful and often need to use the word ‘sufferer’, which sends the wrong message.

    Yes, the teacher is the one who should have had the earful from the boy’s mother. Though if the boy took the book home to read, she could have had a quick look. Privacy quickly disappears out the door if you’re trying to protect or help your Aspie family member. You need to sneak around, if things aren’t shown openly.

    And Philip, I think as long as Julia’s contact was pleased with the result, that’s what matters. I suspect his reality happens all over the place, though, with or without AS. Siobhan Dowd’s Ted is a happier boy than Danny, but he has lots of people who support him, including an older sister. I gathered from Siobhan that Ted was partly based on Geoff’s nephew. Is that correct?

  5. I really think this has drawn some great comments about the “Aspies” term and Aspergers Syndrome, and all credit to Bookwitch for airing a debate. It is important that all angles are explored, as far as the labelling goes, as this is a recently discovered condition. It has always existed, but only in the past decade or so has it become more widely known.

    I was severely bullied at school, and I think it is important to highlight the reality of this. I have some really horrible memories of school. I am pleased that this issue is being dealt with by children’s authors.

    However, I must admit that Siobhan drew on my own obsession with the weather and other traits in my character for the creation of Ted Sparks. So, it could be said that there is some of me in Ted Sparks. However, as far as I know, I do not have Aspergers Syndrome ( although Siobhan always said that, perhaps, I had a little bit of it).

  6. Just went back to an email from Siobhan, and she did say that ‘the weather’ came from her husband. Yes, I think with interests like that it’s fair to describe a person as having Aspie traits. That was something I first came across in another non-fiction book, and I believe it must be very common for those on the spectrum to end up marrying or being friends with people who have AS traits. To me it’s a very positive thing.

  7. Hey I thought I would chime in. I read hangman and I thought it was gripping and it made my heart hurt …but I did not doubt the truth of the story. I agree that part of the difficulty is that the spectrum is vast and everyone’s different and yeah, the parent should have read it first (they really should! teachers too!) I recently read another ‘aspie’ book – anything but typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin – and thought it dealt with the bullying aspect in gentler way (cos there’s a place for that to) – anyway just thought I’d bring it to your attention. Also interesting was Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly, about a girl who has ‘a touch of asbergers’ – more your upper YA …

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