Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Anything But Typical

Like With the Light I was originally interested in this book because it had an autism spectrum character and, again like With the Light I just had a hard time pulling the trigger and reading this book (probably because I like to read for it's escapism qualities and therefore reading about real world issues defeats that purpose). I finally checked it out from the local library after I saw it staring at me as I browsed the YA section week after week and pointed out to myself that it was a short book so once I got going it wouldn't take that long to finish. And I was right, once I started the book it flowed well and I finished the book in just a couple of days, hopefully the shorter length will make some other people who were on the fence about this book try it as well.

Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  I really like this design both for it's symbolism and for a few details you can't see in this picture. The design actually spills onto the back cover (and even incorporates the bar-code into the design while framing the text, very nice) and there is a similar design at the beginning of each chapter. Those extra details make the book feel extra put together and it's always nice to see that extra amount of care for the presentation of a book.

Summary: Jason, a young boy with a variety of acronyms that describe his mental disabilities, has autism and lives and lives a fairly ordinary life dealing with it and trying to understand the people around him (neurotypical or NT people as he calls them). When life gets too much for Jason his favorite escape is a website where he posts his stories, although sometimes trying to figure out what happens next in his stories is just as hard as trying to predict what will happen in real life. 

The Good: Jason manages to come across as someone who isn't quite "neurotypical" (a phrase I liked and have started to use myself) yet all of his actions are still completely understandable and sympathetic which is an amazing feat especially considering how mystifying someone with Autism's actions can be at times. Normally it will be another character, such as his dad, who points out when Jason is pulling out his hair or generally behaving in a way that isn't considered normal yet with the way Jason narrates, which includes why he freaks out so easily over so many things, his obsessive behaviors make sense and the audience can start to predict later on what will set him off. To make this feat even more amazing, as far as I know Baskin is a neurotypical lady who wasn't writing based on her own experiences but through research and empathy, that certainly puts the rest of us who are scared to even think about people who aren't quite normal to shame.

The Bad: Jason is an incredibly articulate and deep 12 year old and at many times comes off as mature as a young adult which is rather off-putting. Sometimes someone on the Autism Spectrum will be wise beyond their years, and Jason needed to be mature for his narration to work, but he doesn't feel like a real 12 year old which is a bit of a problem. The ending of the book was also a little too ambiguous for my taste, most things are explained and perhaps I missed the explantion of the one thing that bothered me, but the story felt a little abrupt and didn't have a very climatic climax which, while expected since this book is more slice of life than anythign else, made the ending feel a bit odder still. It's not a bad ending but something just felt a little off about it to me. 

Jason is one of the most sympathetic and understandable characters I've ever come across in fiction, even if he is atypical and reacts to the world in ways that I don't, and I think that his straightforwardness would let a lot of people also sympathize with him. So, while I'm not sure I would buy this book, I heartily recommend pretty much everyone to read it, unless you have major issues with the written word (in which case, why are you even reading this review in the first place?).