Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Review: Anything But Typical

Original blurb published on January 1, 2012.

This book tells the story of a teenager autistic boy who loves to write and struggles to fit in. I was fascinated to read a story from his point of view, and his own creative stories provided a nice offset to the narrative of his experiences.

From my review for Materials for Youth class, written in April 2011:

In Anything But Typical, the reader is allowed to see the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old writer named Jason. His autism often prevents him from looking people in the face, so he cannot use visual clues to read people’s moods or meanings. He is also confused by how often “neurotypicals”  (regular people) talk when they have nothing to say, or worse, say things that they don’t really mean. But through his careful observations, he comes to understand the people around him and learns that it is not just him, but also them, who are “anything but typical.”

For instance, Jason’s younger brother Jeremy won’t eat his food if different types have touched. His mother cannot master even the most basic technology and gets anxious when taken out of her comfort zone. His Aunt Carol and Uncle Bobby are too busy bragging about their son Seth’s accomplishments to recognize his weaknesses. While his aunt and uncle choose to reject Jason because of his differences, his immediate family embraces him as he is, and he is actually able to help them work through their own struggles. As S.D.L. writes for Horn Book Magazine, “The book’s greatest strength, though, is communicating to readers how some of the same things that bother Jason might also bother them—whether it is bright lights, noisy rooms, or foods that touch—and establishing common ground” (289).

This problem novel (as defined by Tunnell and Jacobs, 134) certainly addresses the issue of autism in a beautiful, realistic story. But more than that, it also shows Jason as a “typical” 12-year-old dealing with many of the same issues as his classmates, even if he doesn’t express them in the same way. Jason’s “powerful and perceptive viewpoint” (Publishers Weekly 49) and writer’s voice give every young reader something that they can relate to. While not every reader will be autistic or know someone who is, the vast majority will be able to relate to the idea of having some trait about themself that they wish they could hide from a potential new friend. I believe that young readers will completely sympathize with Jason as he agonizes over going to the Storyboard convention and the chance of seeing Rebecca there; his fantasizes of her having a huge facial blemish, or being blind, or being “atypical” herself in some way; and then his intense disappointment in being initially rejected by her. Jason shows incredible strength in dealing with the struggles brought on by both his autism and “typical” adolescence, and he can serve as a great role model for young readers.

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