Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A-typical

The second of this year's crop of first-person-narrator-on-the-autism-spectrum titles is Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin. (See here for the first one.) Jason Blake is 12 years old and is in his first year of school without his one-on-one aide. He's mostly ignored at school, but the students do pick on him occasionally. His two loving parents are active advocates for him, however. Jason -- who has a new word pop into his head every morning -- finds the most pleasure in writing. He is an active member of an online community called Storyboard, where he posts his short fiction and then awaits comments from other members.

One day he gets a comment on one of his stories from PhoenixBird, and he begins an email correspondence. His suspicion that PhoenixBird is a she are confirmed when she tells him her name, Rebecca. Jason is thrilled that she is his friend -- a person who knows him, but doesn't know about him. He even announces to the one kid in school who is nice to him that he has a girlfriend (but immediately regrets it). Then, Jason's parents tell him that they are going to take him to the upcoming Storyboard conference in Dallas and he excitedly tells Rebecca that he will be going. To his horror, Rebecca announces that she lives in Dallas and will be attending as well. Jason truly wants her friendship, but is certain that if they were to meet, she will see only his ASD.

Jason does go to Dallas and he does meet Rebecca, but I'm not going to spoil anything by going further. What I enjoyed most about this book was Jason's loving, evolving relationship with his overprotective mother. Listening was my second visit to this book, and I also truly appreciated the sophisticated way that the author uses Jason's love of words (including those that he is using to tell us his story) to describe him and his atypical view of the world.

The narrator is Tom Parks (new to me). Unlike the other narrators I've listened to portray autistic boys -- who read quietly, neutrally and with little affect -- Parks reads with feeling and variations in pace and emotions. There are times when Jason is distressed and you hear it. He also reads the novel's dialog at a louder pitch than he does the remaining text -- reflecting Jason's sensory issues. In Jason's world, everyone is shouting. This was a nice touch. [Even if it meant that I would occasionally have to pry the melted earbuds from my poor shocked ears.]

Completely beside the point: The cover is really bad. If the publisher is going with the Peter Max feeling, at least use some bright, day-glo color. I can't see very many kids spotting this on the shelf and doing anything but browse right by it. And that would be too bad.

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