Tag Archives: Charlotte Moore

George and Sam, once more

I can’t believe that I never reviewed Charlotte Moore’s book George and Sam, about her two autistic sons. It meant so much to me and I was one of the first to buy it the minute it was published, back in 2004.

Charlotte Moore, George and Sam

It has just been re-issued in paperback, and with the added and very great bonus of the columns Charlotte wrote for the Guardian for two years, before the book was published. I used to live for those columns. They were in the paper fortnightly, and I would have happily read one every week. Every day. Seeing the photo of Charlotte and knowing it was another Mind the Gap day meant so much to me.

Until then, I had no idea anyone could write so intelligently about autism, while also being amusing.

The new version of George and Sam has the same cover photo of the boys, from when they were about twelve or thirteen. They are adults now, of course, but will never live like normal adults. What’s so fantastic about Charlotte and her neurotypical youngest son Jake is the way they feel this is normal. Because to them it is.

The addition of 100 pages of Mind the Gap is like revisiting a favourite childhood place. I didn’t remember this, but the column began on my birthday, eleven years ago. And for me it was precisely the right year for it to begin.

I am of the opinion that you could easily re-read this book and the Guardian columns many, many times. It’s like coming home and feeling safe.* And I’d forgotten the introduction by Nick Hornby, who knows what it’s like to live with autism.

Charlotte Moore with George, Jake and Sam

I can’t be the only one who feels like a changed person for having read about Charlotte’s daily life with her boys. Whether or not you live with someone on the autistic spectrum, read about George and Sam and your life may improve.

*I recently had a request from a reader of this blog for a friend to be put in touch with Charlotte. I can fully sympathise with that kind of feeling. As long as we don’t all do it.

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.

A different interview

Well, hopefully all my interviews are different. And this is a little special, because it’s not primarily about writing fiction, though Charlotte Moore does that too. What sets it apart, is that we didn’t talk all that much about Charlotte herself. We talked about her two eldest sons, George and Sam, as it’s through them that Charlotte reached a big audience in the Guardian, some years ago. It’s not just that the boys are important in themselves, but I feel it’s how Charlotte talks about her sons that shows us what she is like.

And I’m still as full of admiration as I was.