17 January 2011

Quirky characters

Before I begin today, a slight confession of sorts: Though I might seem reasonably normal (whatever that means) here in the bodiless realm of cyberspace, if you encountered me in real life you would quickly notice a few quirks. I won't look at you, generally speaking; if you touch me, I'll probably freak out and will definitely step back out of reach; if you accidentally hit on a topic I know a lot about, I will promptly rattle off more information than you wanted or (likely) needed. Yep, that's right - I'm a proud member of Asperger Nation. Get to know me and I chill out, but strangers make me nuts (hey! you! Git outta my personal space!). When I was a kid, I didn't know these little oddities fit together as a symptom set, let alone had a name and other people who shared them. But there's much more awareness of the Spectrum now, and that has infiltrated the world of books, too - even kids' books. So for today's Reading Monday post, let's check out some of the fabulously quirky folks living in black and white on the page - some well-known, some less so, some fictional, some real, but all of which examine the view from someplace neurotypicals usually don't go.

Anything but Typical - Nora Raleigh Baskin

Jason is autistic, but online he's free to interact with people relatively, ahem, normally, without anyone knowing about the things that cause his schoolmates to tease him (like refusing to wear pants with a waistband {I have a student like this myself}). When he meets Rebecca in a writing forum and makes his first real friend, all is right with the world... until a chance comes up to meet in person. Will she accept him for who he is when he's out from behind the screen? Winner of the ALA Schneider Family Award.

Mockingbird - Kathryn Erskine

Caitlin's brother Devon was the one who helped her try to understand how people work. When he is killed in a school shooting, she loses more than just a brother - he was not only her friend, but her "guide dog" to dealing with other people. It's a very moving story (did I mention their mother is also dead?), but also a compelling description of How We Think. Oh, and it won the National Book Award, too.

Rules - Cynthia Lord

Another winner of the ALA Schneider Family Award as well as a Newbery Honor Book (sensing a pattern?). Here, however, it's not the main character but her younger brother who is on the spectrum; the "Rules" of the title are Catherine's way of trying to help David fit in and (here's that word again) act normal. One summer, a new family moves in next door with a girl her age who she's dying to have be a friend; she also meets Jason at her brother's therapy sessions, a boy who's physically disabled but mentally there. A wonderful book on the seemingly simple theme of acceptance.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon

Just because this is a "popular book club selection" doesn't mean it's overhyped. I read this book two days after I was finally diagnosed, and I have to admit it was a huge relief to meet Christopher and think 'YES! So THAT'S how it goes!' He struggles through a mysteriously murdered dog, another deceased mother (maybe), and math and numbers and all that jazz (just for the record, square numbers and Fibonacci numbers are way better than prime numbers. Says me.).

The Millennium Trilogy - Stieg Larsson

Nobody really knows exactly what's up with Lisbeth Salander, but one thing's for sure - she is NOT normal. Asperger's is floated as a possibility - the antisocial tendencies, photographic memory, savant-like computer skills - but in the end, what makes her one of the most fully rounded fictional characters I've ever met is the strange combination of all her quirks. This damsel may be in distress, but she will kick your arse from here to next Tuesday if you mess with her. That's my kinda Aspie-chick! Okay, okay, so unlike the others on the list, the focus isn't on the quirks the whole time, but I just couldn't leave her out. :-)

The previous books are all novels - fiction, y'know? The next two, however, are non-fiction, and all the more interesting for it.

Parallel Play - Tim Page

The subtitle here is "Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's", so of course I had to buy it. Page is a well-known (hell, Pulitzer Prize-winning) music critic as well, which made this one doubly interesting for me. The all-consuming obsessions, difficulties relating to peers, need to have everything "just so" - it's all there, but unlike the novels above where the characters are all aware of their diagnosis, Page is recalling his childhood through the prism of "Oh! Now I get it!" This happened to be the book that was on my bed when one of those "Grab the nearest book" Facebook-status memes was going around last year... if I remember correctly, it was the first sentence of the fifth paragraph on page 57, and I got a lot of "Gee, no kidding?"-type responses when the sentence I pulled out had to do with stratospheric IQ scores. :-P

Look Me in the Eye - John Elder Robison

Okay, so besides being Augusten Burroughs' big brother and the guy who designed the stunt guitars for K.I.S.S. back when they were doing their wild live shows, Robison is a witty and appealing writer in his own right. I admit that a lot of the attraction for me with this one was the "Hey! I do that!" factor, as well as a bit of guilty "Okay, even I'm not that weird." (for the record, I never put my sister in a hole; I did, however, make her eat a lot of things that, erm, aren't food...) His incredible skills with electronics led him eventually to a successful business repairing high-end cars - but it's how he gets there that's the tale. For those who have also read Burroughs' memoirs (Running With Scissors, et al.), the chance to see their chaotic home life from the older brother's point of view is a bonus.

So, who are your favourite literary oddballs? I've tried to keep this list a bit shorter than my usual barrage of titles, but feel free to throw more into the comments!

Edit: Two books mentioned in the comments should really be part of the main post, so here they are!

The London Eye Mystery - Siobhan Dowd

This mystery is not so much a whodunit as a howdunit – how did a boy vanish from a pod on the London Eye while in transit? Siblings Kat and Ted are determined to discover what happened to their cousin Salim; Ted is the Aspie here, and once his favourite theory (spontaneous combustion) is ruled out, they set off to discover not only where their cousin is, but what was going on in his own life and, while they’re at it, rather a lot about each other.

Mindblind - Jennifer Roy

Define “genius”. Yeah, not so easy, is it? Nathaniel doesn’t think he is one, despite acing APs left and right and finishing undergrad at 13, so he’s motivated to keep going. One of the things I like about this one is that our Aspie hero is not completely socially isolated – he has friends that “get” him and are willing to accept occasional oddities since he’s an interesting guy nevertheless (kind of like my buddies put up with me).


Jan Morrison said...

Great list of books - I've only read The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time but think I might check out the others. I read the fantastic books of Temple Grandin quite a few years ago and it helped me understand this spectrum. And I have read Running with Scissors which did make me a bit nervous of the state of memoirs in general but I would like another view of that family.
So, thanks - air hugs.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a great book...so is Dragon Tattoo. I'll have to check out the others, too. My son actually has Curious Incident on his reading list this year for school!

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, great list, Leanne! I really like this (and wish I had the mom of the Aspie around the corner on Facebook)... I adored the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and agree about Lisbeth--she is a fabulous mix of quirks that makes good sense if you triangulate, but that you can see why so many misunderstand her.

Cruella Collett said...

Excellent post, Leanne! I have been reluctant to read "The Curious Incident.." despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that everyone keeps recommending it to me, but I probably should just get over my hype-fear and listen to you.

(And you know we wouldn't want you any other way, right?)

Unknown said...

Leanne, thanks for the comprehensive and interesting books on individuals with Autism. I really love Lisbeth Salander's character. I am proud to say that I caught on early that she is on the Spectrum.

*special ed teacher skills at work*

I have read the first two books of Millenium trilogy. I am looking forward to the third. All others are on my wishlist.

*winks at hubby*

ViolaNut said...

Jan - believe it or not, I haven't gotten to Grandin's yet... the whole slaughterhouse thing just rubs my vegetarian sensibilities the wrong way, y'know?

Elizabeth - Is he in 8th grade, by chance? That seems to be about when that one shows up on the lists.

Tami - *bows* I forgot The London Eye Mystery though - didn't you get that for Sam? Will add it later if I can scrape together the brain cells.

Mari - It's good, I swear. Other than the number thing. ;-)

Chary - I'm going through the Millennium trilogy on audio now, having read them all last year sometime. Have you seen the Swedish films yet? Need to get to those too...

Anybody/everybody - I snagged another one yesterday, Jennifer Roy's Mindblind - if it's any good when I get around to reading it, I'll try and add that too.