The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know about the world and the people in it. One of the reasons I love books is because I get to walk in the footsteps of people who may be different from me, seeing their experiences through their eyes. At times, this can be joyful as cultures and traditions unfold in bright colors and flavors through words on a page. In other cases, however, this can be emotionally challenging, as the effects of the darker side of human behavior become more visible.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll introduces readers to an eleven year old girl named Addie who loves learning and is especially captivated by sharks. As an autistic student in a traditional school, Addie is able to keep up academically with everyone else but must mask in order to make her classmates comfortable with her neurodiversity. When a class assignment about witch trials in her small town of Juniper, Scotland draws uncomfortable parallels to Addie’s own experiences, she sets out to do something important to memorialize the women who died. Please see my full review here.
Admittedly, I knew very little about neurodiversity in general or autism specifically before reading this book. While I recognize there is still a lot to learn, I feel like I have a stronger understanding of what neurodiversity can look like and why it is such an important addition to human culture through this novel. Addie is completely approachable, and she uses both internal reflection and external dialogue to communicate with readers not only about autism itself but also about her relationship with her reality. Autism is an innate part of who she is, and she manages to find a voice of encouragement within herself even above the din of others who fear her differences.
I loved the delivery of this story. In drawing direct parallels to both the witch trials and treatment of sharks, McNicoll eloquently shows readers how prejudices can influence behavior in several situations. Happily, Addie has support from her family and a few caring adults and peers who accept her for who she is. But this is not always enough to overpower the intense bullying Addie receives from more closed-minded residents of her small town. As countless others stand by and say nothing, their silence contributes negatively to the outcome, demonstrating to readers the importance of choosing to be good rather than just nice.
I’m so happy to have “met” Addie through her story and while I would like to hug her, I won’t because I know she wouldn’t like that. This poignant novel adds a powerful new voice to the canon of middle grade literature while drawing attention to both autism and neurodiversity in a positive and engaging way. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, and I’m looking forward to reading more work by this notable author.
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