Category Archives: Autism/Asperger Syndrome

The Dying Day

Persis Wadia is still as awkward as she was in Vaseem Khan’s first book about this pioneering female detective in 1950s Bombay. She shoots people (villains) and she solves the crime[s] put in front of her, despite ‘just being a woman’ in this man’s world. But Persis is also a little bit inept at romance. Which of course makes it all the more fun. Will they get there in the end, or is it going to be such slow going that they never do?

This time someone has stolen a book. But not just any book; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which was being translated by a specialist, who has also disappeared. Possibly with the book, or it could be a coincidence.

Time is of the essence, and then Persis is handed another crime to solve. This one is a supposed suicide, which quickly becomes a murder case.

As in the first book, it’s fun to see Bombay as it was, shortly after independence, and to do so not through the eyes of a man, or a white person. We learn more about Persis, her past, her friends, even her lover. And her colleagues are growing, becoming more interesting, promising more books with more depth.

Can Robots Be Friends?

The Sunday afternoon event with Elle McNicoll and Alastair Chisholm, chaired by Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, was about robots. Not having managed to read either Elle’s Show Us Who You Are or Alastair’s Adam-2 I was a little adrift, but no worse than I could work out I need to read these books. There is a lot of talent in this neck of woods. Well, Elle has left Edinburgh for London, but otherwise they are both from around here.

Elle wore her Blue Peter badge. She has had a lot of jobs so far, which presumably is why her ideal [real] robot would clean for her. Alastair, on the other hand, wants his robot to be like a pet he can look after! His dream hologram would be Ada Lovelace, while Elle’s would be Charles Dickens.

Both their books are about relationships, and their characters are nice people. Or robots, as the case may be. Alastair is a Star Trek-Doctor Who fan, with some interest in Isaac Asimov. Doctor Who is big for Elle as well, but preferably the current day type episodes rather than galaxies far away. And Greek mythology.

And both their readings left me wanting more. They were also well chosen to tempt us. Although both authors had received letters – well, emails – from readers telling them off for not doing what they wanted, which was more books about the characters from the first book, by Alastair, and Elle got strict orders to mix her first and second books.

Elle does not want more robots while neurodiverse humans are not properly understood or treated right. Fair comment, I think. As to whether we can be friends with robots, Alastair said if we are nice enough; because we are the problem.

Asked whether they always wanted to be authors, Alastair said he wanted to be an astronaut and he’s now a computer programmer. Elle used to come to the book festival as a child, so she knew what she wanted, and said the good thing is you can write and do other jobs at the same time.

As for what I want, it is to have been at this event as it happened. It was perfect. Great authors and an excellent chair, talking just the right amount about the right kinds of things. And it was live; all three on the same stage, and with a live audience. Yes, the online event was flawless too. But I want to have been there.

A Different Sort of Normal

As I discovered 14 years ago, it can be hard to know who wants to read books about autism. Those who have it, or those who don’t but want to learn? Children, or adults?

Abigail Balfe’s A Different Sort of Normal, about her own life up until her current age of 35, is for everyone, I’d say. But I feel Abigail is mostly talking to young, possibly not yet diagnosed, people.

Anyway, there is lots of advice here, and the most important is that you’re all right. The way you are. Abigail only got her diagnosis two years ago, so has spent many years simply being weird. Haven’t we all?

And let me just say this now, I can’t stand Punch and Judy. But until I read about poor Abigail’s poor mother booking a Punch and Judy show for her fourth birthday party, in order to seem normal, I hadn’t really considered why I don’t like them. Just been puzzled that others do.

Abigail is also an artist, and has illustrated every single page, so the reader can see what she was like as she grew up, and share the funny, silly little things that happened, the way they have happened to many others. There’s a lot about toilets, but it appears she and I don’t see eye to eye on the subject; just that it’s important.

This is a fun book about autism, albeit a little on the large side to hold. I’m slightly concerned that it won’t get to younger readers with autism. I don’t know who decides that someone is ‘autistic enough’ to need a book like this, or how they would find out about its existence. But if and when they do, I expect it will help a great deal.

Mine is the yellow Hetty

I’d been worried there would be no book in this, but then to my delight I discovered that of course there is a book.

I was so very happy to read about Henry the ‘hoover’ in last week’s Guardian Weekend. I didn’t know I needed to read about him, but it was really interesting, and the article author, Simon Usborne, made it more so by telling us about his young son’s friendship and love for their family Henry. Especially important during lockdown.

Many years ago when I first came across Henry, I erroneously assumed he was cheap and probably sucked at sucking. Appearances can deceive.

Last year I came to the conclusion that we too needed to adopt a new colourful little friend. The ancient Miele wasn’t up to much, nor was the replacement, whose name I don’t recall, except he was lime green.

So now Hetty lives with us. She’s a girl and has a very happy smile. And she’s beautifully yellow. Hetty never fails to cheer me up.

The book? Yes, it appears Henry and Hetty and all the others appeal to autistic children, and they have organised visits for them to see the factory, and there are books. Not publicly available ones, but Henry books for the real fans.

Paper Girls

DCI Kett is the most father-like detective I have ever come across, by which I mean Alex Smith’s description of what it’s like to be the [currently] lone parent to three young girls is spot on. And once they’ve arrived in Norwich, his detective also kicks in doors left, right and centre. Because he has to.

As an expert on missing people, Kett is on compassionate leave and has come home to Norwich after his own wife goes missing and he fails to find out what’s happened to her. It’s hard. His eldest is six and autistic, the middle girl always wants to poo, and the youngest comes along on his detecting, in her pushchair, because Kett has yet to sort out childcare. Not that he should be working, of course.

But three eleven-year-old girls have gone missing while doing their paper rounds, and the local police want his help. And even if he wanted to, Kett can’t ignore this case. He might have forgotten to bring bedlinen, but he is still a good father.

And a good detective.

I’m not generally too keen on crime novels featuring suffering children, but this is kept at an OK level. And Alex’s writing is great. It’s extremely readable.

I did guess quite early on who to suspect. Perhaps I was meant to. But you still have to wait to see how it will all work out. If it works out. You want to believe it will, because of the many children involved, but you can’t be sure.

As for the missing mother; we are clearly meant to see how Kett manages – or not – without her, so I don’t imagine there will be a speedy, happy outcome.

There will be more poos, and more doors to kick in. And naming a couple of potential suspects after his real life author colleagues is genius. Made me very happy.

Exam Attack

Yes, it will feel like that, at least to some of you. That those exams are out to get you. But mostly Nicola Morgan’s new book with the title Exam Attack is there to help you with your exams, and preparing for them.

Admittedly, in Scotland, the National 5 exams for 2021 have just been cancelled, which could set off a different kind of exam anxiety. But I reckon by reading Nicola’s excellent books with advice on just about everything, you can probably find something to help you with non-existent exams as well.

As ever, it feels like Nicola and I are on the same page, advice-wise. Without her book, I did the advising when Daughter had exams, but had we had a printed book to refer to, it might have been faster and easier.

It’s all common sense, but sometimes we need someone to spell out that sense, or we risk running around in circles like so many headless chickens.

If you’re lucky enough to have exams coming up, maybe check Nicola’s guide out. I am a great fan of self-help books. At least when they are sensible.

(I used to love exams. There was clearly something wrong with me.)

Midnight at Malabar House

Vaseem Khan has left his baby elephant and moved back in time to New Year’s Eve 1949 where Persis Wadia is India’s first female police detective in a new crime series. Persis is on night duty at Malabar House when called to the scene of the murder of a British diplomat.

It’s not easy being a woman in such a role where most people want to speak to ‘the man’. Persis is not afraid, however, and as the mystery unravelled she struck me as quite possibly being autistic. If so, it helps her persist in doing a good job, but also alienates others, including potential suitors. Not that she needs a boyfriend. She has a job.

Set soon after Partition, this is an fascinating period to learn more about, regardless of the crime solving. Admittedly, Vaseem isn’t old enough to have been there at the time, nor is he a woman. But he writes his female detective surprisingly well. And he gives her a sidekick in the shape of a white English male; someone who seems to suit Persis really well.

I suppose it’s unavoidable that this is still a pretty white [British] story, with lots of strings being pulled from London. I liked learning more about this side of India; the established Indians and their British counterparts, rather than poverty-stricken villages and people hoping to emigrate.

Persis and her sidekick show a lot of promise. As does the young nation. Hopefully we’ll see more of them.

Notes On My Family

I occasionally wonder how many books you can want to read about ‘normal’ life in a family, as seen through the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum. Will it feel too same-y? Well, I suppose it’s no different from the endless friendship stories set in schools and in the family home, spiced up with a bit of romance. They, too, are ‘all the same’ and readers still enjoy them and seek them out.

Emily Critchley, Notes On My Family

Emily Critchley’s Notes On My Family is about another slightly dysfunctional family, by which I probably mean totally normal. Except Louise sees things in a different way. And she deserves a more clued-up family. Couldn’t she at least have one parent who sees her for what she is, and who is on her side? As it is, Louise gets the weirdo treatment at school, where the other girls invite her outside to beat her up.

This doesn’t improve when her father, who is the PE teacher at school, has an affair with a sixth-form girl. But no one discovers what kind of life Louise leads, because she never complains. She merely notes down what happens as though it’s all normal and to be expected.

Her mother goes somewhat bonkers over the affair, her sister dresses up for when the fire brigade is called, and her brother hides with his own problems.

Luckily, Louise has a better set of imaginary parents, and in that life she also has a dog, and is home-schooled.

Finally Louise meets another outsider at school, who might just be friendship material. If Louise only knew how to be friends.

I don’t know what the lives of aspie teenagers are like, but I hope that reading Notes On My Family will provide a welcome sense of recognition. We’re not all crazy in the same way, but hopefully it’s possible to laugh at someone else’s mad life.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

I love Gennifer Choldenko’s Al Capone books so much that when she told me the latest one wasn’t being published in the UK, I bought my own copy of Al Capone Throws Me a Curve. It was worth it.

Gennifer Choldenko, Al Capone Throws Me a Curve

Moose Flanagan is now 13 [and a half] and tall and kind and capable, and everyone expects a lot from him. But he’s still only 13, and it’s late May 1936 on Alcatraz, and school is about to finish and Moose wants to spend the summer playing baseball, hoping to join the team, just like other boys.

His older sister Natalie is about to turn 17, and needs to be watched over by Moose, because being autistic and living side-by-side with convicts on a rock isn’t ideal. Moose also needs to keep an eye on the Warden’s daughter, Piper, which turns his summer more into ‘girl-sitting’ than baseball playing.

So far it’s been quite easy to overlook Moose’s mother, but she has to be taken into account as well, and there is more woman trouble from Mrs Trixle, meaning Moose really has his work cut out. There’s only so much one boy can do.

This is a very much a baseball story and I happily admit to understanding almost none of it, except that Moose is dead keen. How to convince the team to take him and his friend on is another matter, though.

The story will ring true to anyone with an autistic sibling; how everything turns into being about them, and how you have to be the good one, putting your own needs aside. But even Natalie has some surprises up her sleeve. And when all is said and done, Moose discovers that while baseball is important, the safety of his family comes first.

Playing baseball with Al Capone? I’m not sure I recommend it.

This book, on the other hand, I do. And if you’ve not read the others, get them all. This is US history and a story about a boy and an autism book, all rolled into one. A great period piece!

The Unpredictability of Being Human

I loved this book.

I’d have read it much sooner if there had been any mention of it being an aspie novel. This is not – necessarily – something you discover by leafing through a few pages. To me it looked like your typical Americanised school relationship story, albeit a good one. And I could never get my head round whether it was translated or not. Seems it’s not, as Linni Ingemundsen is Norwegian, but presumably wrote her book in English. Americanised English. I am being aspie about this, I know. But I believe Malin, the main character in this book, would understand what I mean.

Linni Ingemundsen, The Unpredictability of Being Human

14-year-old Malin watches the time and keeps us posted on how many hours and minutes and seconds it has been. She is open-minded, but clueless, which leads to her doing whatever the others at school tell her to do, when really it would have been better if she hadn’t. Very temporarily Malin acquires a friend, one who looks out for her, until she loses her by not understanding what you say or don’t say to others.

This is the story of her life, as Malin goes from one slightly baffling thing to the next. You can Google life, but that still doesn’t mean you get it right. As happens all the time in real life, she is suitable fodder for the mean girls in her class. Her dysfunctional family are more ‘normal’ than Malin, but not normal enough to realise quite how much she needs their help.

This book has it all; sex, drinking, how to avoid drowning, lying, how to kiss a boy, what not to do with scissors, dislocated shoulders, and death. If you’re not Malin, it comes across as mildly humorous. For Malin everything is puzzling. Unless it’s maths.

There is a genuinely Norwegian flavour to everything, including words and phrases not translated. I think I can guess what lapper might be.

Malin is a wonderful character and I wish her well for the future. I hope for someone to explain the weirdest aspects of ‘normal’ life to her, when she needs it.