Hi friends, happy April! (she said, already twelve days into the new month), and happy autism awareness month!
To celebrate, I really wanted to write a post that focused on books with a main character that is on the autism spectrum, whether they’re the narrator or close to the narrator. Because I had to take countless literature classes (perks of being an English major, I suppose??), I was able to take more unconventional classes like International Literature for Children & Young Adults and Language Disorders & English Literacy. It was through these classes that I was introduced to my very first narrator that had autism, which prompted me go on and write my 40-page senior thesis on accurate and valid ASD representation in children’s and YA books.
I like to think that I’m a big advocate of diverse books. Considering I fell in love with reading because I met characters that I related to, it just seems unfair that not every reader has that chance. No matter your sexuality, gender identity, ability, race, language, culture, religion, mental health, physical health, you should be able to see yourself in a book. No questions asked. (Note: Aline over at Fully Booked wrote an incredible post on how we sometimes talk about diversity in books and the minorities that we tend to focus on; do yourself a favor and check it out!)
Today, one in 68 children find themselves on the autism spectrum. Don’t you think they deserve to find themselves in books too?
Like I said, I managed to write 40 pages on this topic (so please feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk about this more!!), but I want to keep this short and sweet so we can get right to the books that you should add to your TBR ASAP. The first two books are middle-grade novels, and the following two are YA books. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite books that have characters with ASD!
Disclaimer: As a person that does not have an autism spectrum disorder, my opinions on “good” or “accurate” representation cannot be all-encompassing, as I’m unaware of what it is like to be on the spectrum.
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Synopsis: Ten-year-old Caitlin’s world had always been black and white. Anything else was confusing; but her brother, Devon, helped her understand. Then tragedy struck, and now nothing makes sense. As a girl was Asperger’s syndrome, Caitlin turns to what she does know—textbooks and dictionaries. And after reading the definition of closure, she realizes that this is what everyone needs. In her search for closure, she discovers that black and white are surrounded by shades of gray, and that those are beautiful and necessary for healing.
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”—in order to head off David’s embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the potential next-door friend she’s always wish for; it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?
Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth
Synopsis: It’s been more than a year since nineteen-year-old twins Justine and Perry watched their dad lose his battle with cancer, leaving Justine as the sole caregiver for her brother, who is prone to what Justine calls “inappropriate behaviors.” But now their reliance on each other is set to shift. Before they go their separate ways, the twins want to create the perfect memory. For Perry, the trip is a glorious celebration of his favorite things: mythical sea creatures, Jackie Chan movies and the study of earthquakes. For Justine, it’s a chance to “free” her twin, to see who she is without her boyfriend, and to offer their mother the chance to atone for past wrongs.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Synopsis: Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow. This improbably story of Christopher’s quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years.
**I just want to make a note that, even though The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is likely the most well-known book with a narrator that has autism, it is by no means the best form of autistic representation out there. Christopher is painted as a “know-it-all” that seemingly has the answers for everything because of his disability, and he is often taken advantage of because of it; this is problematic as autism spectrum disorders are a spectrum, meaning they’re different for every individual diagnosed, and TCIOTDITN reinstates a very dangerous stereotype often associated with individuals with autism. However, it was the first book I read with narrator on the spectrum, hence why it made it on to this list.**
Ah! And there we have it! These books all have a special place in my heart, and that’s probably due to the fact that I spent four months with them, dissecting every word they offered me so I could write that 40-page paper.
I also want to point you to the incredible non-profit organization that advocates for books for all readers, We Need Diverse Books. You can also follow their conversation on twitter with the hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. I HIGHLY recommend checking out this awesome tool on their website that allows you to find books for specific diversities, if you want to broaden the stories you read!
Once again, happy autism awareness month! I hope this month, and every month of the year, you’re able to find a book that lets you live a life different from your own for a little while.