Title: Anything but Typical
Author:Nora Raleigh Baskin
I admit it! I love finding books about people with Autism! I could say that it's my psychology background and interest in understanding other's behaviors and what not but, really, it's because of my son. I could fill pages with my son's story, but I'll spare you that saga and just tell you this, he has mild Autism. This means that he has Autism, but it's not as sever as what others have and, thankfully, he, like Jason Blake, has been able find a way to maneuver the Neurotypical world enough to cope and be, what society calls, pretty functional.
Because of my experience with someone with Autism, I love to read about others who have it and see how it is portrayed in the media, movie/T.V, books and other forms of art. That is why I was so excited to read this book. That has also, I acknowledge, colored my opinion of this book.
What's it about?
Jason Blake is a talented writer, smart, curious and, yea...he's Autistic, too. The neurotypical world he lives is confusing, over whelming and a cesspool for awkward interactions that will surly haunt him for days, weeks or even months. The neurotypical people who have created the world he lives in and still surround him struggle to understand him just as much as he struggles to understand him. But he's got one, sure fire escape. Writing. He loves writing stories and has found great comfort in doing so. Even more, he posts them on a storyboard online where others can read his works and connect with him.
That's how he met PheonixBird, a young writer about his age. And she likes him. She's the only girl that doesn't find him totally disgusting and he likes, too! Now he's thrown into a new world of chaos as he struggles to navigate his new friendship with PheonixBird (her real name is Rebecca) and prepare for a surprise his parents have prepared for him, a trip to the writing convention for all of the members of website Jason posts his writing on.
Favorite Characters: I have a few. Of course I like Jason. He's funny and he loves to write, a past time, I, myself love as well. He's honest and he helped me to understand my son. While some of Jason's actions reminded me of my son when he was younger, (he's currently, as I write this, 18 and just graduated from high school! Yay!) and I was able to just kind of nod as I read those parts. Then there were parts where I couldn't help but think. Those parts actually inspired me to open up a conversation with my son about his own experiences so that I could better understand him. I love those moments and always find affection for those, fictional or otherwise, that help me do this!
Jason's dad: I'll talk a little more about this later, but I loved how Jason's father supported him, but even more, he loved and accepted him for who he was. He didn't try to make Jason be someone he wasn't, he just found his own ways to connect with Jason and form a level of understanding that worked.
Jeremy: Jeremy is Jason's little brother and, in a lot of ways, he reminds me of their father. He loves Jason and understands that Jason isn't like his friends' big brothers but he's okay with that. He loves and accepts Jason for who he is and embraces it. He's found a way to connect with Jason and form a healthy relationship in a way that works for both of them and allows them both to get what they need. No judgment.
Least favorite character: The teachers. I know, I'm an adult and so I shouldn't judge the teachers so harshly but I think the fact that I am an adult is why I judge them as I do. Jason's teachers didn't understand him, didn't have patience for him and were horrible at hiding their feelings from him. I know not everyone understands Autism, but, as a teacher with an Autistic student, shouldn't you learn? Shouldn't you listen? Shouldn't you support him and protect him while teaching acceptance and kindness?
Favorite Part: I think I have two favorite parts. The first one is when Jason and his family go over to visit family. If you've read the book, you know that most of his family is more concerned with how Jason isn't normal then how he is (well, most of his family) and when Jason's cousin is pushed into spending time with Jason, it doesn't end well. But what I love about this part, is the interaction between Jeremy and Jason. It's the first time you really get to see how the two of them have bonded in their own ways and how Jeremy is proud of his brother because of who he is, not ashamed for who he isn't.
My other favorite part is toward the end. It's the interactions between Jason and his mother as they (spoiler alert!) begin to gain understanding of each other, allowing them to get over some of the difficulties they've had in the past and move forward. I think I liked this because I know how powerful understanding can be in forming relationships like this. It can change everything and, up until this point, to be honest, Jason's mom annoyed me.
Favorite Quotes: "That's what it says in my IEP, which is more letters. More initials that define who I am." (pg. 58-59) this line screamed at me! I knew, the second I read this, I was going to use this as one of my favorite lines. I didn't choose this because I think that letters and diagnosis define a person. I don't at all! Trust me, to be defined by something like that is so belittling. (Yes. I have experience. I have a learning disability and had an IEP since I was in first grade). I loved it because when you have a diagnosis and you use resources that are put in place to help you and others, it sometimes feels like those very things are how the rest of the world defines you. You're the one with a learning disability. You're the Autistic one. You're the weird one. You need extra help. It goes on and on. And, sometimes, if we're not careful, we forget that those letters, those words, don't define who we are. They are part of who we are. There's a big difference and it's our job to remember that. No one should feel like letters define who they are.
Some other thoughts:
I mentioned before that Jason's mom annoyed me. Well, she did. She didn't understand Jason. She often seemed as if she wanted to change Jason and, at one point he even talked about how he thought his mom wanted to "fix" him. I know that not everyone has the same experience as I have with Autism, but as the mother of a child with Autism, this drove me crazy! It's not easy being the parent of a person with Autism. Things don't always go as planned and, even when they do, they don't always look the way you expected them to. That's okay. Now, I don't think for a moment that Jason's mom didn't love him or meant to be cruel at all. I think she just didn't understand and didn't know how to adjust her own expectations for Jason.
However, I did like that it was the mother, not the father, who struggled with accepting the diagnosis and understanding Jason. I liked it because, usually, it's the father that is typically the parent who struggles with these things. It's usually the father who wonders why he's not more like others while the mother is whispering reassurances to him behind closed doors, defending their child to others and going out of their way to accept, bond and create an environment right for them. But this time, it was the other way around and I did enjoy that. I liked that they didn't portray the parents as most do and, instead created a father who was perfect for the child, even when the mother struggled. It was a nice change.
Now, I've read that some found the writing style a little confusing. I agree, at times it did make you stop and think for a minute but I also really liked that! While usually I would say that this is something that could be changed, I think it helped us get into Jason's head and have a better understanding of how he thinks. At least, I felt like that is probably like my son's head. He sometimes seems scatter brained and like he's bouncing all over the place, based on what he says, but when you really stop to question how he got from this point in the conversation to what he said, there's usually a path way, albeit, it may not make much sense to most people, but there was a train of thought there. I also think it helps with the fact that it can be hard to filter out sensory input, so their minds may be confusing and unorganized sometimes, or, maybe, even often. I think Jason's way of writing illustrated that.
Over all, it's not my favorite book, but I really enjoyed it! I'm glad I read it and I would recommend it others!