Well, well, well.
I didn't know what to think of this book when I first heard about it, if you want to know the truth. These were the days before "Mockingbird," before I had any sort of faith that a book about an individual on the autism spectrum could really get into their head. I mean, sure, I'd seen plenty of movies and read plenty of books about 'em, but for the most part they were all told from the point of view of neurotypicals. It's a big difference, you know. Those of us with autism do see the world differently, and the closest to accurate thing I'd seen up to this point was "Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree," which never said the eponymous character had a disorder. But I digress. When I saw the reviews and that cover (GORGEOUS, seriously), I was determined to read it, because I wanted to know if I had another "Curious Incident" on my hands.
What do you know? I loved every bit of it.
The first thing that I found particularly noteworthy is that the protagonist is described as high-functioning autistic, not an aspie. There is a difference between being high-functioning autism and having Asperger Syndrome, and while it's ultimately pretty miniscule it is nonetheless noteworthy. The protagonist of this book is more autistic than aspie, which is pleasing. This is a big deal to me, because I feel as if the differences should be known by many. I have high-functioning autistic friends and aspie friends, and Jason reminds me far more of the former than the latter.
Second, the tone is just perfect. The life of an individual on the autism spectrum, especially during the tween years, is a difficult one indeed, and an air of melancholy permeates the entire book. It's not cry-rivers-of-tears sad, though, so there is none of that "woe is the autistic child" that could be found in many, many other books. It's remarkably clear-headed and free of over-exaggeration, which I by no means expected and in the end loved about it.
What I loved most, though, is the incredible attention to details about the inner machinations of the protagonist's mind. He worries about when something is going to go wrong, he knows when something is going to set him off, and he is very, very much enamored of a girl who he's never met and imagines a relationship with her. And, especially, he is aware that other people have problems with those who "aren't normal" and is aware that he does have feelings despite not expressing them in the "normal" way. Real kids with autism that I know do all of these things, so it's very much refreshing to see a fictional depiction of one that gets it right.
Any faults? The writing's too good. Seriously. There are times when it is very much apparent that this was "written." Twelve-year-olds generally are not as perceptive as Jason. And there are times where the book doesn't feel nearly as urgent as it should; something tells me that a story told by an autistic individual should be a bit more dramatic. If these are all I can fault the book for, though, I will accept these flaws.
This is a book of importance and, along with "Mockingbird," should be shelved in classrooms from fourth-grade onwards. We have indeed come a long way since "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime," and I only hope that authors continue to make such great strides in attempting to accurately depict the experiences of individuals with autism spectrum disorders.