Do You Think This Is Strange?Do You Think This Is Strange? by Aaron Cully Drake
My rating: 5/5 cats
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Correlation is not causation. Even when you know it’s not causation, you still can’t stop thinking about it.

you know what i think is strange?? that i liked this book. if you had asked me if the world needed another book told from the POV of an autistic character, i would have said “no. no we do not.” i completely understand why it is tempting for a writer and appealing to a reader to produce/read books like this – it offers a perspective and a worldview that is outside the experience of many of us, and it’s a novel lens through which to view the familiar world. or it would be novel if it hadn’t already been done to death. by now it’s just gimmicky and redundant.

however, this one won me over completely. and maybe it’s because i didn’t read a lot of the big, popular recent autism-POV books like The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism or The Rosie Project, so i’d had a respite, but man – i was utterly charmed by this. UTTERLY CHARMED. and maybe you will be less charmed if you have autism-burnout, but that will be sad for you because you will not be able to enjoy this book. it claims to be for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and maybe it is, but i am living proof that it is also for people who hated that book.

freddy is a seventeen-year-old boy who has just had to change schools after being expelled for fighting. any kind of routine-upheaval is devastating for people with autism, and since freddy is still trying to process his mother’s abrupt disappearance ten years ago, this is just one more confusing layer added to his existence as he struggles to interpret social cues in a life he shares with his overwhelmed, alcoholic father. he is forced to attend regular counseling sessions at his new school as he attempts to acclimate, and things really start to foment when he is reunited with saskia, a girl who is also on the spectrum, who’d been his best friend before she also disappeared from his life ten years earlier.

their reunion is complicated and unusual to an outsider. saskia no longer speaks, she only squeaks, and this, in addition to scrawling pink floyd lyrics to freddy, is how she communicates with him. but their relationship had always been singular from outward appearances:

Saskia has seen my bedroom. I have seen hers. Back when our parents still made us put on pyjamas before one of us had to leave, we would retreat to the bedroom and ignore each other like very good friends should do.

Within the slim definition of ‘play’ that applies to autistic children, Saskia Stiles and I played. We bounced around rooms, at Excalibur House, without bumping into each other. Most people thought we were ignoring each other, but if you asked me what I did for the day, I would have told you that I played with Saskia. She would have said the same.

When we played, I was happy. She let me do the things that I wanted to do, with no other demands. I let her do the things that she wanted to do, with no other demands. We were glad for each other’s company. It was enough.

between saskia’s reappearance and freddy’s counseling sessions, the threads of his thoughts begin to stir as he remembers bits and pieces of the past, both with his mother and after her disappearance, which he struggles to process. the novel is made up of freddy’s experiences at seventeen along with many revealing, nonlinear memories fading in and out in-between. it’s a big-hearted coming-of-age story, a character study with a strong voice, and also a family mystery. and like the best of its kind, it’s funny and sweet and sad and ultimately hopeful.

i really loved freddy, and while i did not love his father as a person, his frustration and helplessness and anger were very realistic as character traits. it’s a touching story, but it isn’t at all cutesy, and the ending genuinely surprised me.

tell me you don’t love this kid:

I try not to smile. It’s better for all concerned.

I smiled the day my father told me that my mother would not be coming home again. He, on the other hand, wasn’t smiling. I heard him the night before, and deep into the morning, his banging around the kitchen, his watching television in the living room.

His eyes were all puffy and red, and I knew he needed to be comforted. I recalled relevant scenes in literature and concluded that a good way to comfort an unhappy person is to try to cheer them up. Relevant examples also included affirming the individual by overly praising them.

I smiled as broadly as I could.

“Well, that’s fantastic,” I said to my father, and did not break the smile. “You should be very proud.”

Perhaps my smile was too wide – I can’t tell.five

I am, at the age of 17, a veteran of this war, this battle to communicate with the outside world before it communicates with me. I have lost many battles where I smiled when I shouldn’t have smiled.

A neutral demeanour resonates with my character. It isn’t hostile, so others aren’t threatened. It isn’t happy, so others aren’t chatty. It’s so perfect a display of no opinion, that few people think I have an opinion. As a result, few people ask for it.

When I don’t offer an opinion, when I don’t offer a response, when I don’t display easily misinterpreted emotions, I don’t get into trouble.

I used to think my solution to life was to understand how to talk to other people. In reality, the solution to my life was how to understand how to avoid talking to other people.

And that’s why I never smile.

i approve of this debut!

read my reviews on goodreads

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this feels gauche, but when i announced i was starting a blog, everyone assured me this is a thing that is done. i’m not on facebook, i’ve never had a cellphone or listened to a podcast; so many common experiences of modern life are foreign to me, but i’m certainly struggling financially, so if this is how the world works now, i’d be foolish to pass it up. any support will be received with equal parts gratitude and bewilderment.

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