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.