"All we are, all we can be, are the stories we tell," he says, and he is talking as if he is talking only to me. "Long after we are gone, our words will be all that is left, and who is to say what really happened or even what reality is? Our stories, our fiction, our words will be as close to truth as can be. And no one can take that away from you." Nobody." (pg. 187)
I loved, loved, loved this book, which I read in one sitting (thank you, snow day). It's a middle grade novel, so admittedly, my 40 year old self might not be the target audience, but ... wow, if this doesn't make the grade for near perfection for middle grade fiction, I don't know what does.
Anything But Typical is the story of Jason Blake, a 12 year old with a litany of initial labels to his name. He's been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, HFA, ASD - all instantly recognizable to those of us familiar with the autism as Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified; High Functioning Autism, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Jason's incredibly self-aware - of his sensory limitations, his classmates' teasing, his own social awkwardness, his parents' struggles to put on brave faces and do everything they can for him.
And yet, Jason is a gifted writer, proficient beyond his years in the nuances of language and vocabulary. He spends hours on the computer writing stories and participating in an online community called Storyboard, which is where he "meets" Phoenixbird. E-mails are exchanged and Jason discovers that Phoenixbird is a girl ... a girl who likes him and his writing ... someone who could actually be considered a girlfriend until the opportunity presents itself for an in-person meeting and Jason becomes filled with angst that she will discover his true self, quirks and all.
This is a book that I will be giving to Boo when he is a little older, for Anything But Typical is a true gift, one that allows kids on the autism spectrum to see themselves (or glimpses of themselves) in Jason, to realize that there is someone else like them, who needs to remember the mental cues from therapists, who knows what it means to be in an inclusionary classroom, who struggles with even the most simplistic (but nuanced) social dynamics.
Nora Raleigh Baskin has also given parents of kids with autism a gift with this exquisite novel, for it is in reading about Jason that we gain a better insight into our own children and a reminder and appreciation of their strengths and special gifts.
Jason is an amazingly likeable character, someone that you find yourself rooting for and hoping for success. You want to read his stories, you want to be his friend.
For middle grade readers, you have that chance. Because most likely, Jason sits a few seats over in class or sits by himself at lunch. He's the klutzy kid who knocks over stuff, who isn't very good in gym class, who is a little bit weird, who the other kids make fun of.
And who - make no mistake about it - has a story very much worth hearing.
Nora Raleigh Baskin's website is here
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