Category Archives: Autism/Asperger Syndrome

The Roman Quests – The Archers of Isca

It is reassuring that I am not yet too old for Caroline Lawrence’s books. Occasionally I wonder if I will be, seeing as I’ve been reading her Roman mysteries for well over a dozen years. But I am still a child at heart.

Caroline Lawrence, The Roman Quests - The Archers of Isca

The second of four books set in Britain in AD 95, we follow the eldest boy, Fronto, as he sets off to be a soldier. It’s what he always wanted, albeit perhaps not quite like this. In Rome he could have been an officer, while now he must begin at the bottom. But for a boy who likes rules and knowing what’s happening and what he should do about it, army life is perfect.

Meanwhile, his two younger siblings continue as they were, living with the local people. At least, until Fronto’s little sister Ursula is kidnapped.

As with all Caroline’s books, this story educates as it entertains. I have learned more about life in Roman Britain through these books than I ever did from more historical texts. What’s more, I suspect I might remember facts for longer as well.

There are Druids and Romans, we learn about Roman baths and Boudica’s famous battle, and we find out how people lived; what they ate and how they worked and prayed.

And we are getting closer to knowing what happened to Miriam’s twin boys.

Car Wash Wish

Isn’t this just a fantastic book title? It makes me want to go round muttering those three words to myself, trying to avoid twisting my tongue with the wash wish thing.

Sita Brahmachari has written another great book for Barrington Stoke, and this time it’s a nicely timed autism story, for National Autism Awareness Month.

Sita Brahmachari, Car Wash Wish

14-year-old Hudson is an aspie, and his dad is one as well, which is why Hudson now lives with his mum and stepdad and his unborn half-sibling, currently going by the name of Zygote. Hudson likes the letter Z. A lot.

To make matters worse, his dad’s dad has died and there is a funeral to go to, to dress for. His mum always felt that her late father-in-law, who had Alzheimer’s, took up all her husband’s attention, which is why they split up.

Hudson just wants to understand the world, and to be with his dad, as well as with his mum, and Zygote, with whom he chats by himself in order to introduce their family.

There is a car wash in his dad’s past, and the importance of this becomes evident as you read the book. That’s the car wash wish.

Lovely.

Faraday and the aspies

I like it when people contact me about new books (or old, for that matter) because they know something about me, or have looked me up, and they are aware that I have special interests.

So no, I don’t think I’ll collaborate on a blog tour for a violent, adult thriller just now, thank you. Especially as I’ve never heard of you before. Or read your book.

In the last few weeks I’ve been approached by someone about a novel with a minor character who is an aspie. Except the aspieness has – apparently – nothing to do with the plot. The description of the book was rather lengthy, but I think that it’s an adult novel, which just happens to have an aspie character.

And then there was the – also rather lengthy – description of what I believe might be a children’s reference book. It was based on something to do with Michael Faraday, and again, I’d like to think that they contacted me for a reason. Except they didn’t mention this. So perhaps they didn’t know, and I was one of thousands they approached.

I tried not to mind the spelling errors. But when their return email address was so obviously wrong, you begin to wonder. Whereas I was actually quite tempted this time, I decided I couldn’t reply.

The Exclusion Wars

The Exclusion Wars by Sheila Agnew is a dystopia set in New York in about ten years’ time, and one which is looking increasingly likely. Many such stories feel as if they would require considerably longer before they might happen, but this one features a Trump-like President with a hatred for one group of the population; the Latinos.

Sheila Agnew, The Exclusion Wars

The novel is self-published because all the publishers Sheila approached a couple of years ago felt that the scenario was far too unlikely…

The main character is teenager Mateo Rivera, aka Matthew Rivers, who is alone after his mother escaped to Alaska, the only safe place for Latinos to go. He is looked after by the Underground, whose goal is to restore Latinos in the community, while helping people to disappear safely, or to live in disguise.

There are government agents everywhere, equipped with ‘fake’ dogs, and there are inspections in schools to find children who are pretending not to be Latino. One way to trick people to give themselves away is seeing if they speak Spanish, when caught unawares.

Matthew himself joins the Underground as a minor agent, and along with his best friend he runs messages between the adults. We don’t see so much of President Trent, but the schools inspector is a pretty terrifying man, who is quite hands-on with the searching.

This plot could be true almost anywhere, with almost any group of people as the unwanted ones. If you stop and think for a few seconds, you can probably come up with some. Maybe not as totalitarian as this set-up, but we’re not far from it in places.

It’s a shame the book couldn’t find a mainstream publisher. As you know, I often wonder what they are thinking a lot of the time. Sheila did the kind of thing I could see myself doing; she sent her book to Eoin Colfer, who liked it.

See you again, Snape

What a difference three days make. On Monday when I heard that a famous 69-year-old man had died, I went ‘Oh.’ On Thursday when I heard that another famous 69-year-old man had died, equally prematurely, I went ‘Oh no!’

There is no knowing in advance how you’ll react, but yesterday’s news that Alan Rickman has died affected me much more than I would have thought likely. I felt as if I’d met him not long ago, and in a way, I had. It’s just over a week since we watched A Little Chaos, which to my mind was only truly enjoyable thanks to Alan Rickman as the tired King hiding in a garden, ‘forgetting’ he likes pears.

And it was only another couple of weeks before, that we watched Love Actually, to get in the mood for Christmas. Which we did, even though Alan’s character behaves rather stupidly. Hopefully he will learn to be more like Hugh Grant.

More recently than either of these films I paused to look at a spread of photos in (I think) the Guardian, where Alan for some obscure reason wasn’t listed, and I went over the picture credits several times to work out why he was there, and why there was no mention of him.

Galaxy Quest! How can you not adore that crazy film? As a Mr Spock fan, I just loved Alan’s Spock-type character. In fact, I feel the urge to watch it again right now. And the less well known Snow Cake, about an autistic woman, where Alan was very much the right man for the part. Marvin. I always loved Marvin.

You might ask yourselves why I am putting Alan Rickman on Bookwitch, when he was an actor and I’m sitting here listing film titles. The thing is, to me he embodied a couple of important books, more than anything else he did (and I’m no expert; having seen less of his work than many). Before his Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, I had never really thought about the man. Not being the main male character, he just slipped me by in the novel. But on the screen, he made the whole television adaptation what it was. I have already forgotten most of it, apart from his Colonel.

But for me as a witch, it’s Alan’s Snape that will stay the longest in my memory. He was the perfect Snape; a mix of bad while ‘almost’ nice. The thing is, it was only a few days ago that I chatted to Daughter about the Harry Potter actors, and how I had had this dreadful premonition that not all of them would survive the whole seven books/films. The two that flitted before my eyes at the time were Richard Harris and Maggie Smith, and we know how that went. I just didn’t think that any of ‘the young ones’ were at risk.

Alan seems to have been a nice, decent man as well as a terrific actor, and that’s always attractive. There is something good about a man with a conscience and sensible opinions; someone who will do and say what’s necessary at times. Also, I know nothing about his personal life or his family, and that’s how it should be. My condolences to them.

Harriet the Spy

I was a bit disappointed by Harriet the Spy. Louise Fitzhugh’s 1964 novel had been recommended to me, and although I didn’t exactly rush to read it, I fully expected it to be something it wasn’t.

To begin with I quite liked it, but grew to actively dislike Harriet herself. I’m unsure as to whether she’s not meant to be likeable, or if she’s more of a Pippi Longstocking girl that the reader is meant to admire because she’s so different. I believe Harriet the Spy was suggested as an aspie book, and it is, I suppose. Harriet’s problems in relating to her school friends suggests a lack of theory of mind. (With my aspie hat on, I also noticed a couple of ‘mistakes,’ like Harriet going to school on a Sunday.)

Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy

It’s a rather charming period piece, set in New York over fifty years ago. It’s the kind of New York it’d be nice to be able to see for yourself, and almost impossible to imagine today.

You have to admire [some of] Harriet’s observational skills. She creeps round the neighbourhood collecting data on people in her notebook, to which she is permanently attached. She sees all these things, but she fails to understand what they mean, what makes people tick. Harriet also fails to allow others to be different. It’s all about her and her ways.

Her nanny is sacked, and everything goes wrong. Her teachers ‘don’t understand her’ and her friends and non-friends alike turn on her. In a way, what this really is is a book by Rebecca Stead, turned on its head. I.e. it’s the plot as seen by the ‘bad’ child, rather than the usual point of view.

And then, everything is ‘fine’ again, which is fine by me, but I didn’t admire the ways it was made fine.

(I have used a book cover image different to the one on my copy, because among other things I dislike is ‘the film/television’ book cover. Especially when it seems to bear little relation to the story.)

Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet the Spy

How to Fly with Broken Wings

‘Jump!’ Now, that’s a horrible thing to tell, or force, someone else to do. But we know it happens, and it happens a lot in Jane Elson’s book How to Fly with Broken Wings. It’s worth considering why someone would say it, though. Things are never totally straightforward.

Jane Elson, How to Fly with Broken Wings

Friendship is a difficult concept. Not only can making friends be rather hard, but even to understand what a friend is, could be close to impossible. Twelve-year-old Willem Edward Smith has Asperger Syndrome. His maths teacher gives him homework, which is to make two new friends; real friends, rather than a relative or a friendly shopkeeper.

So poor Willem tries to make friends, and ends up with Sasha from school, who is the (girl)friend of Willem’s bully, Finn. And he befriends Finn. Maybe.

What with the friendship issues, and gang warfare on the estate where he lives with his gran, and rioting, things are never going to be easy for Willem. And this story is not a happy ever after story. There is a lot of bad stuff, mixed in with the good.

Sasha and Finn are not going to change completely. Willem will probably always display aspie traits and be easily led. Staff at his school seem to be particularly stupid.

But there is Archie, the elderly man who moves in, and whose mission it is to change the estate. There are the memories of Archie’s parents, especially his mother, who flew planes in the war. There is a Spitfire, a living, breathing Spitfire, so to speak.

If it doesn’t kill them, then maybe Archie and the dreams of flying can help this troubled estate. Expect to cry, though.