Tuesday, October 26, 2010

REVIEW: Anything But Typical

This post isn't going to be funny.  I tried to find a way to make this review funny, but I got nothing.  Besides, if you try to make a funny review about a moving and serious book on autism, you become the book blogger who thinks autism is funny.  I will not be that girl.  So, below is a review in my "old-school" more serious style:

Baskin, N.R.  (2009).  Anything But Typical.  New York:  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

195 pages.

Appetizer:  12-year-old Jason Blake is good with words.  He's a writer.  And posting his stories on an online story website is the way that he engages with people.  He has trouble speaking to people in person and expressing his emotions because he is autistic.  He thinks that because he has trouble expressing what he feels, many neurotypicals, like his classmates, assume he doesn't feel.  Most people try to keep their distance from him and Jason silently believes that he'll never have a girlfriend.

But then, when Jason goes to check for comments on his latest story online, he discovers a nice comment.  A nice comment from a girl!  A girl named PhoenixBird who seems to want to be his friend.

As Jason and PhoenixBird continue to talk online, his parents inform him that they'll let him go to the storyboard website's annual conference.  While normally this would be a dream come true for Jason, it causes him to worry.  What if he sees PhoenixBird there?  Will she still want to be his friend when she sees that he's different from most of the kids their age?  That he has trouble holding still?

Nora Raleigh Baskin does an AMAZING job of entering Jason's perspective.  He's a wonderfully believable character.  Jason is regularly bullied and taken advantage of by some of his classmates and Baskin does a great job of describing Jason's experiences in a fair manner.  I can see why this book was one of the Schneider award winners this year.

Throughout the book, there are wonderful moments when Jason describes the craft of writing.  Because of these moments, I'd probably pair reading this book aloud with having students write their own stories, paying attention to the tensions, the perspective and tools students use to tell the story.

I very intentionally say I'd use this book as a read aloud because there are a lot of moments throughout the book that I think a teacher needs to encourage students to discuss the content or provide some background:  What autism is, the way the book jumps back and forth through time, the vocabulary, the way gender is presented, the way some of the characters feel about Jason and his feelings toward him, etc.

This is one of those books, which, while it's technically middle grade, it can also be used with young adults.

I assigned this to my undergrads to read and their reactions.  The vast majority liked it and were impressed by Jason's perspective.  They threw comments around about how this book can help educate readers on autism, how to interact with autistic people, etc.  There was a lot of really great and deep discussion.  Plus, the book is less angsty than Mockingbird (which I was considering using next quarter, especially since it was recently named a National Book Award finalist).  Monica and I discussed it a few months ago.

But I'm sorry, Mockingbird.  I think I'm sticking with Anything But Typical for the time being.

Dinner Conversation:

"Most people like to talk in their own language.
They strongly prefer it.  They so strongly prefer it that when they go to a foreign country they just talk louder, maybe slower, because they think they will be better understood.  But more than talking in their own language, people like to hear things in a way they are most comfortable.  The way they are used to. The way they can most easily relate to, as if that makes it more real.  So I will try to tell this story in that way.
And I will tell this story in first person.
I not he.  Me not him.  Mine not his.
In a neurotypical way.
I will try--
To tell my story in their language, in your language." (p. 1).

"Why do people want everyone to act just like they do?  Talk like they do.  Look like they do.  Act like they do.
And if you don't--
If you don't, people make the assumption that you do not feel what they feel.
And then they make the assumption--
That you must not feel anything at all" (p.14).

"I read the comment one more time.
Because somethign tells me--
That this note is from a girl.  There are some boy cheerleaders, but I don't think a boy would admit that.
So I thin PhoenixBird is a girl.
So I think a girl has just said something nice to me" (p. 29).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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