In recent years there has been a bunch of great books featuring autistic characters. However, 2017 was something special. Featuring representation from across the autistic community, whether you’re a parent with an autistic child, an independent adult with autism, or somebody who may require additional support for their autism, 2017 had something for you (there were even books featuring autistic female leads, can you imagine!).
That’s why I thought it would be a fitting finale for the year, to create a list of the top 3 books, which feature autistic characters, from 2017 (spoiler free).
[Before we start, let me make it clear that these are my top 3 books which feature autistic characters, I was not sponsored to create this list, and all the choices I include today have been picked because I genuinely loved the stories and characters which were present.]
Ginny Moon is the story of a young autistic girl and her steadfast determination to find the ‘baby doll’, which she left with her abusive mother, when she was taken into social care and subsequently adopted.
Ginny Moon is a great read for those looking for a book about an autistic character which isn’t centred around autism itself, and though I’m aware of how much this is going to sound like a cliché, I can’t help but feel like it has a lot of similarities with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The book contains a constantly moving plot which, thanks to the nature of it’s autistic lead, is anything but predictable, and Ginny Moon’s support characters are all extremely well-realised.
Though Ginny herself does eventually become a well-rounded character, the beginning of the book can feel very frustrating at times, as Ginny can often be her own worst enemy: making decisions which only serve to create a peculiar representation of autism, whilst simultaneously slowing down the pace of the whole first act.
Thankfully though, after a major plot point is revealed, towards the beginning of the novel, the weird decisions start to make sense, and the book becomes much more enjoyable (other than a few moments towards the end, where the support characters won’t tell Ginny important information regarding her ‘baby doll’, but then if they did, the book would be much shorter).
Despite these minor annoyances, Ginny Moon really comes into its own during the aftermath of the first act, where author Benjamin Ludwig takes just enough time to develop every single character in Ginny’s life, as we see them not only deal with Ginny’s autism, but her PTSD from her time before adoption.
It’s during this latter half of the novel that we also come to realise that not everything is black and white in Ginny’s life and this creates a sense of uncertainty which will no doubt absorb you throughout the rest of the book.
Though Ginny Moon can be very, very depressing at times, Ludwig makes great use of the funnier side of autistic life, with a particular scene involving an awkward dad explaining breast feeding to Ginny, being a highlight of mine.
In summary, if you’re looking for a book which takes an accurate and realistic look at autism, you might want to give Ginny Moon a miss. However, if you are looking for a story with richly developed characters, an intriguing and engaging narrative and an opportunity to feel a world of different emotions with every page, this is the book for you.
Besides her best friend Anna, her horse Mabel, Doctor Who, chocolate and cake; Grace, from Rachel Lucas’, The State of Grace, loves John Hughes’ films (which is great, considering how her life plays out like one). Grace’s story is one of teen drama, lovable characters and laugh out loud comedy. However, there is one thing that sets The State of Grace apart from classics like, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink – Grace has Asperger’s.
Now, of course I was going to highly recommend any book where the narrator tells the reader to go watch ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. However, luckily for me, there are so many more reasons why The State of Grace is one of the best 2017 books to feature an autistic character.
Lucas is an incredible author, who has an amazing understanding of autism. Her style of writing is genius, such as how she injects short 2 page chapters, throughout the book, to build suspense for what’s to come/let the reader reflect on what’s just happened.
What I find particularly impressive about Lucas’ writing, is her incredible range when it comes to cracking jokes. From silly slapstick during the first pages of the story, to more risky dark humour towards the end. Even if the tried and tested story within The State of Grace doesn’t win you over, the comedy certainly will.
The State of Grace is almost too perfect in places though, as the book starts by setting up an incredible antagonist (who you will love to hate), only for her disappear before ever really delivering on what we all know she was capable of.
With all things considered, this can easily be over looked, as the final act of The State of Grace is so fantastic that you will forget everything which has come before it: plots tie together, character are at their best and Grace’s view never changes from being both hilarious and anxiety inducing.
The State of Grace is an expertly written book, which wears its influence on its sleeve. It’s full of cultural references, which people off the spectrum will relate to, and the view point of Grace is something which every person on it will connect with. There’s obviously a target audience for this one, however, I have no doubt that all readers of this site will find something to love.
For those who read my autistic Christmas gift guide, it should come as no surprise that my number 1 pick, this year, is the fantastic Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl.
Kids Like Us follows Martin, a boy on the autistic spectrum, who uses his favourite novel to process the world around him. After travelling to the French country side with his sister: Elizabeth and world renowned director/mother: Samantha Mitchell, Martin meets a girl, he believes to be the living embodiment of Gilberte, the love interest from the book he is so obsessed with.
There are many things which Kids Like Us does right, however, nothing stands out quite as much as Reyl’s firm grasp of the autistic spectrum. Martin is one of the most relatable characters I have ever read: yes, he may have many of the stereotypical autistic features, such as an obsession, social difficulties and can often take things too literally, however, he is shown progressing and regressing from many of his autistic traits, depending on environmental factors. This is very realistic and immediately makes the novel feel unique and refreshing.
But Martin isn’t the only autistic character in the book (nor is he the best). Martin spends much of the book conversing with his hilarious friend Lydia, and it is during these moments when Reyl’s writing really shines. It would be easy to write a conversation between two people with autism as a stiff and static exchange of ideas. However, Martin and Lydia have very unique personalities and it’s during Martin and Lydia’s time together that the book is at its most endearing.
Kids Like Us isn’t for everyone though, as the story of Martin’s time in France is very much grounded in the ‘slice of life’ genre (a form of fiction which depicts individuals going about their average day to day lives). At the beginning of the book there is a certain mystery regarding Martin’s absent father, and if you are expecting a grand resolution to this plot, you may be let down (also be warned this book contains many, MANY spoilers for Downton Abbey).
That’s not to say Kids Like Us has no narrative. In fact the development which is seen in each individual character, more than serve as a plot of its own, from the relationships Martin makes, to the journey in which his arc takes him (even the French landscape feels like a character by the end of the book – although you probably won’t know this because you will have booked a flight to the country of love, before you finish the first chapter).
Kids Like Us is a story about autism. I don’t deny that, but it’s so much more than that alone. it’s a story about identity: from how people perceive themselves to how we look up to and can often let our admiration of others blind us.
It’s for these reasons and more, Kids Like Us, is not only my favourite book to feature an autistic character in 2017, but it is also my favourite book of the year. Well worth a read, even if ‘slice of life’ story telling isn’t really your thing.
Carry on the Conversation:
This list only scrapes the surface when taking into account all the great autism fiction from 2017. Look out for a follow-up article in the near future containing the widely praised The Someday Birds by Sally J. Plan and Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde (which I was kindly gifted for Christmas and will aim to read sharpish).
In the meantime, let me know in the comments below what your favourite books from 2017 were: fiction/non-fiction, autistic characters/non-autistic characters, all answers welcome!
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Thank you for reading and I will see you in the new year for more thoughts from across the spectrum.