In a minority

I need to disagree with Simon Mason. At least, I think I do. His review in Saturday’s Guardian of Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine wasn’t terribly favourable. That’s fine. For all its merits, Mockingbird wasn’t my favourite aspie book, either. But as an aspie book, it is of interest to me. It has a job to do, and I believe it does.

I suspect Simon ‘only’ reviewed Mockingbird as he would any other book, and he’s probably right to do so. You shouldn’t be more positive about a novel featuring black characters only for that reason. Nor should you get a black reviewer in to ‘do it justice.’ So my feeling that the Guardian would have been better to ask Charlotte Moore is possibly also wrong.

But then I was wrong back in the infancy of Bookwitch when I produced a list – soon followed by a second list – of aspie books (and ultimately a blog in the Guardian). I imagined they were for normal people wanting to read up on aspies or enjoy a novel featuring people who are different in some respect. I felt there was more to aspie literature than Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident. There is, and if reviewers of aspie books will insist on harking back to Curious Incident and compare unfavourably, then I will end up resenting Mark’s wonderful novel.

My own epiphany back in 2007 was that aspies actively look for – and don’t often find – books about themselves. There is a need, and it needs to be filled. Mockingbird does that. So do many other aspie novels. They might not be great literature, because they are often written out of a sense of need and desperation. Unless we can commission top authors to write aspie books as though they were writing one of their ‘normal’ novels, we have to be happy with what we’ve got.

Simon’s is a neurotypical review. It doesn’t allow for the need for aspie books, nor that top writers don’t ‘go there.’ For children’s needs, and especially British children’s reading needs, I want a Jacqueline Wilson book with a main character who has Asperger Syndrome. Not the best friend or the sibling, but the main character.

Once or twice I have suggested to authors I admire that they’d do many readers a favour by incorporating aspie characters in their books. Usually the response is that they know too little (research!), and why don’t I write one myself? That, of course, is what many aspie authors have ended up doing.

Most of my aspie novels are American. Simon is right; there is a difference between our two countries. So far the US appears to have been better for aspie children. A recent suggestion for changing the law means that they will soon have it as bad as we do here.

There are one or two inaccuracies in Simon’s review. Maybe they don’t matter. Although I think they do. Too fast reading of the book is what I’m thinking. Caitlin isn’t into video games. She likes videos. The games were mentioned as part of her ‘conducting small talk.’ The way she talks about her brother is because her Dad fell to pieces and seems not to respond to her. Devon didn’t go to Caitlin’s school, so wasn’t killed there. The lack of colour could constitute a possible angle of aspie life. Caitlin is surprisingly good at drawing. I don’t think her drawing has to be the passion Simon expects it to be.

OK, I’m being petty. But I’d rather a book like this was pulled to shreds for the right reasons. In some ways I wonder why the Guardian bothered reviewing Mockingbird at all. I think it’s important. But I would rather they picked a book which a reviewer could wholeheartedly recommend. Until Carnegie level authors write aspie books, we need to nurture the ones we get. The books still have a value.

9 responses to “In a minority

  1. I’m not qualified to comment on the aspie aspects, but I agree with the idea that books should sometimes be judged by different lights.

  2. It’s a difficult argument – do certain topics beg a specialist view? Can a desperate need mean judgment be delivered delicately? When and who is to decide? I don’t know.

  3. Please feel free to write an aspie book next time!

    I suppose to some extent it depends on what the effect of the review is on the number of sales and the number of readers afterwards. If it puts people off it’s not good, but if it makes people aware and they buy/read the book, then it is positive. If I had read this review but not the book, I suspect I wouldn’t have gone out to buy it. And if I was one of three people left in the world who hadn’t read Mark Haddon’s book, I’d be buying that instead.

  4. I have to say I have never come across the term ‘aspie book’ before and I speak as a mother with two adult sons, one of whom wasn’t diagnosed as having Asperger syndrome until he was 10 and the other has marked characteristics which would put him on the spectrum. Both live ‘normal’ lives although some people around them might consider them eccentric or even ‘odd’. They are both highly intelligent and were/are avid readers. Neither would have gained anything from reading ‘aspie books’ and neither would anyone understand them better by doing so.

    Is it only me, but the term ‘aspie’ sticks in my craw. It smacks of condescension and otherness. It’s also twee. People with on the Asperger/autism spectrum are no different from you and me and don’t need their own literature. They are fine young men. All they need is inclusion and tolerance.

  5. Then you are lucky, Sally. If none of you feel that something was missing, that’s really good. And I would have said what you say, until the day I found the forum where aspies were searching for things to read about themselves.
    The term aspie. Yes, people dislike it. It’s not mine. It is frequently used by ‘the fine’ people you are describing, because Asperger Syndrome is a bit of a mouthful, and if you add ‘sufferer’ to that, it makes it look like people are suffering, when it is just a description that’s wanted. What term do you use?
    As I said in one of my comments on the Guardian blog, I can call myself a miggie, for migraine sufferer. And whereas I always am one, I don’t always have a migraine, so the need for a word is smaller. Whereas aspies are always that. Unless you subscribe to Tony Atwood’s ‘cure,’ which is to go into a room and close the door.
    The inclusion and tolerance you speak of; I hope your son got it? Otherwise I have to say that books are good to help others understand, and hopefully provide what we all deserve.

  6. I like the word Aspie…. 😦

  7. I do too, Helen. I think it’s Waspie.

  8. What about Curious Incident? I’m sure you’ve talked about this, Witch, but tell me again. Accurate? Enlightening?

  9. Strangely enough, I have said very little about it. It is both accurate and enlightening, as well as enjoyable in all the awfulness for the poor young man. But today I felt that perhaps it is too much of a mainstream, albeit very successful, ‘adult’ novel to work really well for aspies. People will read the book and move on. And if other aspie books, like Mockingbird, don’t measure up, then it is actually doing them a disservice.
    For children we have Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, which is perfect in almost every way.

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